Category Archives: chickens, etc.

On seasonal freak-outs

What’s hoppening?  Like everything else, even the heavily-pruned hops vines are frightening in their output at this time of year

It happens every year at about this time.  Despite my best efforts, the garden overwhelms me!  Once the corn begins to tassle, I simply need to put my blinders on and ignore the weeds.

Granted, I am able to keep the beds weed-free.  I just need to find the beds amongst the uninvited foliage.

Dinosaurs in our midst:  juvenile bronze turkeys doing their morning perambulation.  They, and five home-hatched chicks, remain the only baby fowl on the farm

This feeling of being overwhelmed somehow does not stop at the garden gate.  Other cyclical tasks, once eagerly anticipated, are forgotten.  This year it’s the meat chicken order.  (You would think that a woman who is tied to her computer all the work-long day would maybe give the emptying freezer some consideration, but no.)  Granted, this year has been ridiculously hot and dry, so every week I would mentally think “next week shall be cooler (thus I can place the order).”  But weeks continue to go by and I begin to feel like this:

Is it an empty nest if it is just chickens?

On rushed seasons

22 March is shockingly early for the first (measly) asparagus harvest, don’t you think?

The girl barges in through the back door Wednesday afternoon and announces “It sure is quiet out there!”  That morning’s trip with the dogcrate full of roosters guaranteed that the regular sounds of backyard bucolia have returned here.

My call to the butcher’s wife brought the usual guffaw from her.  “SEVEN roosters? You ARE a softie, honey.”

Jellybean and some of his wimmin.  What you can’t see is his torn-up wattle, poor thing.  Now he’s back to being #2 Rooster.

Er, not really.  The seven in question were late-summer chicks too small for the Thanksgiving turkey trip to the butcher in question.  We endured their presence until we just couldn’t (“we” includes the harassed hens and of course the now bloody and pissed-off Mary Ellen and Jellybean) any longer.  And since one guy was keen to “sleep” in the huge blue spruce which shades the henyard…well, let’s just say an early spring’s open windows and one obnoxious night bird are not exactly compatible.  It’ll buy you a trip to freezer camp, dude.

I envy those of you who are actively eating down the contents of your freezers.  I am somehow unable to ever see the bottom of a freezer (understandably, not a bad problem to have), what with the seasonal binges like a rooster harvest.  Things simply get replaced.

The new greenhouse:  I had planned on harvesting these greens by the end of April, not March…

One thing not easily stored is the lettuces.  My best-laid plans of harvesting one  older-lettuce-filled greenhouse and then moving on to the next baby-lettuce-filled greenhouse are crappy plans indeed with daily lows beating average highs here.  Three solid weeks of temperatures in the 70s/80s mean that the 100s experienced in the greenhouses are not good for anything currently in there…including the 100 cells seeded with tomatoes.  Sigh.  Time to reboot, clean out, reseed.  Weather, you know, just happens.  My plans would’ve been perfect in a normal year.

The routine on Sunday and Thursday nights:  gather ye CSA bags as ye may…

But what are we going to eat in May?  I wonder!  Better start seeding lettuce rows for the fickle world outside.

The nightly haul:  leeks, lettuces (Amish Deer Tongue and red romaine), atop bolting collards, asparagus and onions…with herbs. 

On negatives being positive

Uh oh:  chicken tractor and lawn furniture scattered hither and yon

My husband continuously says I am a glass-half-empty person.  He says it often enough that it makes me suspicious:  does he want me to believe this?  Tomayto tomahto I say.  Frankly, I think we could all use a dose of half-emptyness, at least some of the time.  If it does nothing else it lets you accept that Stuff Happens, and it prepares you for it, for sometimes Stuff will happen to You.

Stuff Happens, so pick up the pieces and move on.  We had a hellacious windstorm on Thursday night, preceded by a hailstorm of long length.  The hail was kind of cool to watch, and thankfully wasn’t so bad as to shed greenhouse plastic and/or leafy plants.  But that windstorm!  Wow.  Friday morning was a bit of a blur:  tree-sized branches everywhere, and the chicken tractor thrice tumbled, meat birds scattered.

Lucky Lucy, wondering where her siblings might be.  Every year our daughter commutes the sentence of one female meat bird.

So yeah, lots of damage.  We lost two chickens (gone with the wind?).  This  morning fortunately was the appointment with the butcher, so I gathered the remaining 25 Freedom Ranger birds and drove them over, avoiding fallen limbs and debris along the way.  And then, well, then I carried on.

Old greenhouse, 4 Oct 11:  Left photo shows the lone tomatoes in the front and on back wall, with green tomatoes ripening on a screen; right shows rosemary, sage, and artichoke in the foreground and the zany fig tree at the right.  All empty-looking beds have been planted with winter-hardy lettuces and greens (mizuna, arugula, kales, chickories).

Control what you can:  I cleaned the summer crops out of the old greenhouse on Saturday.  I was too depressed to do outdoor garden work, so instead I prepared the old greenhouse for winter.

But it’s still summer in the new greenhouse  where it’s tomato city, with peppers…but seedling beds are full too.  Those are some late sweet potatoes on the screen, dried beans on the chair at the right.  Lots of work to be done here too, toward the end of the month.

The next cleanup project:  re-erecting the trellis.  Those are my hops on the ground.

So indeed:  bit by bit, pick up the pieces.  I suppose I should be thankful this storm occurred toward the end of the growing season…it would’ve been more discouraging earlier in the summer.  As it is now, well…things had begun to be harvested, picked, prepared for winter before this storm.  The trellises and broken-up beds aren’t “needed” except maybe by my aesthetic sense of wholeness.  Which is motivation enough, actually, to get me moving.  Half full indeed!

On the meat harvest

Aichi (nappa) cabbage:  kimchi-ready

Ah, September!  I always love your cool nights and your warm days.  School busy-ness has changed the household routine, as has homework.  The long-season crops like cabbage and Brussels sprouts have begun to flesh out after their Summer of Despair (hot weather, too much rain).  And of those long-season crops, our eyes have cast themselves on the feather-clad crops.  How long before Winner Winner Chicken Dinner?

Dinner on the hoof

Not long at all.  The Freedom Rangers (who, though in their tractor at night, now truly range free during the day) are doing quite well, fattening up nicely.  I am growing enough of them to have enough to sell, thus tipping the meat chicken bank book into the black.  (We’ll keep 18 of the 28 for ourselves.)

Pretty little Red Hen

So too are the turkeys.  Ruby hatched enough for me to sell a few poults this spring, and I am raising two birds for others and one for ourselves, like last year.  This means the turkeys, likewise, are self-sustaining.

Uday, Raghad, and Qusay in a quieter moment

We’ll all be quite glad to see the turkeys off the farm, though.  We have two young toms and a hen, and, while the hen is no problem, the boys are thugs.  I call them Qusay and Uday.  Gobblegobble!

Meat chick update

Thought I would show you the chicks:  It was a big week for them.

They’re out in the tractor now!  Yes, the little darlings are less than three weeks old, yet I have cast them out onto the cruel, cruel world.  Am I heartless? Hah.  Hardly.  I have been watching the nighttime lows and eagerly watching their feather development.  The high dew point overnight is what tends to worry me.  There’s enough fluff on those babies still and when fluff, unlike feathers, gets damp, they get chilled.  But the weather has remained hot, including overnight (not-very) lows.  So they’re out.

All 28 babies are doing well in the tractor.  This tractor (6’x12′) is fine for all of them now and I need only move it once a day so far.  The high grass is fun for them, I think:  they stalk bugs and each other.  They fly about like fat sparrows, skip-hop-flapping from one end to the other, releasing the bottomless energy that seems to be the province of the young.

Still cute, yes?

They’re growing well on their chick starter feed (20% protein), but since they arrived I have been supplementing their rations with yogurt- or kefir-soaked scratch, crumbled hard-boiled eggs, and worms from the garden.  They also get poultry grit thrown in their food (rocks, basically) to help those little gizzards do the tough job of grinding up their food.

On the chicken tractor process

Nothing like the hottest week of the year to receive 154 chicks in the mail.

I didn’t order the weather, but I did order the chicks.  Granted, 125 of the birds are going to homes other than my own, but…I do have method to the madness of ordering chicks in July.

Chicks, let’s be clear, are a lot of work!  I find it best to let a hen raise them (either her own or foster birds) and that has worked for me in the past, but a 100% farm-hatched meat bird operation has not.  So I order in, and play Mother Hen myself.  If I have to raise them myself, I find the best time to do so is when it is warm, even hot, outside.  I only need the lamps on overnight for that first crucial fluffy week.

I supplement the home-hatched roosters with a slow-growing meat bird, tractored out on pasture.  Last year we received 25 Freedom Ranger birds.  I loved the taste and tenderness, and they grew out quickly, but…the first week was tough as I lost three chicks, and all three chicks plus three more experienced spraddle leg.  Spraddle leg can be caused by three things:  a too-slippery surface (like their transport box) for the first few days of life, old eggs, or a food deficiency.  It takes two days for the chicks to reach us by mail (coming from Pennsylvania!  go figure!) and if it happens to these birds, that’s it, no more Freedom Rangers for me.

Considering it’s one of the most commonly asked questions I get, I will document the care of these birds a bit more than I have done in the past.  They’ll be here until October, and then they’ll hang out in our freezer.  Stay tuned.

On barnyard sexual politics

Jellybean, Number 2 Rooster (with turkey poult and Ruby in background)

My garden lacks any shade at all.  This is not a bad thing, unless I wish to do a little pleasant sit-down hand task like I wished to do on this sunny, hot, breeze-less evening after work.  So, I made like any sensible animal would do and took my task (cleaning 50 heads of softneck garlic) to the shade found on the back deck.  And being a civilized social animal, I filled a small tumbler full of rosé and sat down.

Number 2 Rooster Jellybean espied me as my butt hit the chair and came sauntering down the walk in his mincing, pigeontoed, not-quite-cock-of-the-walk way.  Eyeballing any and all situations IS the Number 2 Rooster’s job, after all, and he was sizing me up to his advantage.  Because it was after 5:00 and Chicken Happy Hour was in full swing (i.e., all poultry out and about) I watched to see what he would do.  His thoughts were eminently transparent to me.

Some say it is wrong, verging on dangerous, to anthropomorphize one’s pets or farmyard creatures or, hell, the actions of any (other) creature living on earth.  Dangerous to whom, I always wondered:  even as a small child, I knew humans were animals…how we could ever think otherwise was a fight I fought until I won it (in my own head, anyway).  Let’s just say this:  it’s dangerous to NOT think that animals act as humans can.  Whether it’s dissing the animals or not to put the anthro- in front of the word  is the argument we should all have.

And so we have not-so-little Jellybean eying me from the side of the deck.  “Both big humans provide food, but this one provides food 99% of the time if she’s got a bowl in her hands, as she does right now.  Perhaps what she has is food,” is the way his thoughts turned, “and I will check,” thus taking a few pecks at the dessicated garlic leaves hanging over the edge of the deck, “and it is inedible, but the fact remains this human has a bowl in her hands,” and thus he began to do the call that mother hens and roosters do to let their charges know they have found food, please come running NOW.

And the nearby hens did.  Notice the further-away hens did not:  they can differentiate Jellybean’s from Number 1 Rooster Absolute Backyard God Mary Ellen’s calls.  When Mary Ellen calls, the goods are usually there.  When Jellybean calls, well.  Dried husks is the perfect example.  Those hens are not at all stupid.  And sure enough:  Jellybean jumped one of the chickens in range and whose back was turned.  As Number 2 Rooster, the only option he has is crass subterfuge and then blindsiding a hen.

Ah, yes.  Every time I look at the stats of how people find this site, it’s not at all surprising how often “barnyard sex” is a key search term.  And indeed chicken romance isn’t candlelight suppers and (more) glasses of rosé .  Almost all the hens rebuff Jellybean, even take him on in a fight, but if you’re jumped you’re jumped and the smarter hens just endure it with a ruffled resignation as they know it will be over soon.  In this instance though Jellybean has climbed atop Emilie, a not particularly retiring doormat-ty kind of hen.  So she squawks and Mary Ellen flies in to her aid.

So here we are.  What I have just relayed in 500-odd words has taken place within 3 minutes or less.  And in those 500 words and three actual minutes I think we can all see how I smirk at poor Jellybean as the beta male:  in all honesty though he’s doing what he can.  If things get too ugly, indeed, he’ll be dinner, but he’s wily enough not to piss off Mary Ellen too often, and so, he remains in the tribe.  But yes, his stress hormones are almost always sky-high, and you gotta wonder what it does to him, much less for the general temperament of the rest of the flock.

Number 1 Rooster, lord of the flock, Mary Ellen.

And it’s my job as chickenherd to do just that:  gauge the temperament and well-being of the flock.  We have two full-sized roosters for a reason, and that reason is because we want farm babies.  (And no, you don’t need roosters for eggs, just chicks.)  The flock’s too large for Mary Ellen to mate with all the hens on his own, though I suppose he tries.  He’s got a great easy-going temperament with both people and his charges, magnanimous even, and I always wonder if it was because he was alone to develop it, not having to battle someone for everything, during his formative year.  If Jellybean ruled the roost, would he remain the furtive little bastard he is now?

A little social psy in any situation can’t hurt, you know, and it might even teach you something.  It’s fun at least.

On the expanding farmstead

Every spring, the number of creatures goes up on most farms.  Ours is no exception…except, well, our numbers exploded this year, thanks to:

the bees.

We took delivery of them on Tuesday night.  I chatted with them in their box on the sideboard as we ate dinner, telling them all about the farmstead and neighborhood.  After dining, we went outside and watched Tom place them in their new home.

We’ve also got a few baby turkeys.  Not the 17 of last year’s first hatching, we’re content with four, maybe five.  Queen Ruby has successfully raised five in the past; it seems about all the girl can take.

And as usual, it’s baby chick season.  The spring has been so cold that all four of our sitting hens lost their eggs so I supplemented their mothering need by giving them meat and egg chicks from the feed store.  They don’t care.  Babies is babies.

There are also bunnies.  Ugh, bunnies.

And we’re expecting one, or maybe two, kids to be born toward the end of the month.  I’m getting a half gallon daily from Bell, but it would be great to squeak out another half gallon from Cricket…is that being greedy, counting-unhatched-chickens-wise?  Time will tell.

On spring chickens

Ah, spring.  The temperatures have finally climbed above the finger-numbing range so I took it upon myself to off a few supernumerary roosters on Sunday.

It seems that March through June is such a fraught time around the place, so much so that I awake at night with worries of “did I do that already?  ohgah when am I going to find the time to do X time-intensive, necessary farm task?” and it’s tasks like killing roosters that I put off and put off again and again.  Usually, things need to rise to near crisis level (read:  they’ve begun fighting) for me to really jump into action.  Let’s face it:  Chores like cleaning out the chicken coop or putting up a new fence, however distasteful, beat chicken killing any day.  But it’s come to that with these birds.  Spring means rooster testosterone flows just as readily as chlorophyll in the grass or lutenizing hormone in the egg chickens.

Life became a lot more cushy for this farmgirl when I found a local butcher to do in my critters for me.  Fifteen chickens takes him two hours, whereas five chickens nearly kills me and shoots my whole day (it takes me four hours, plus recovery for my feather-plucking fingers).  At $2.50 a bird, it beats the heck out of what I bill an hour, and even math-averse me can see that Mike’s skills, though cheap, are priceless.  But I won’t bring him these eight-month-old little bantam roosters.  It’s not worth his time!

Me, on Sunday

Two of the birds went to the freezer, but the last went into a wonderful mild soup called Cock-a-leekie…it’s a Scottish dish.  It’s traditionally prepared with the losing roo in a cockfight, actually!  Perhaps this boy didn’t lose a cockfight, but he lost the game of numbers…a farm only needs a tiny number of roosters.  Caput kaput, which makes me snort.

Cock-a-Leekie:  I harvest a good pound or more each of leeks and carrots out of the outdoor garden, grab a huge hank of thyme from the herb garden and scrounge up celery leaves, parsley, scallions and chervil from the greenhouse.  The rooster, gutted, headless and footless, is in a heavy pot with hot salted water to cover; I start braising him at the barest boil while I prepare the veggies and herbs.  After about an hour, I take the meat off the carcass, pan-sear the leeks and a handful of pearled barley in some butter and then put the leek/barley mixture, meat, bouquet garni (thyme, chervil, parsley tied w/ string), chopped carrots and celery back in the broth pot to cook another hour or so until the carrots are softened…adding spices to taste.  Traditionally served with prunes, this soup is sweet enough without them thanks to the winter-grown leeks and carrots, methinks.  Thanks, little annoying rooster!

On pea-planting season

I often feel like a poultry Pied Piper

There is a small window of time between melting snow and garden season when the chickens are allowed to run around unpenned.  They wander fairly widely, mostly in pursuit of the newly-sprouting grass, but mainly they all make a beeline for the gardens.  Deeply mulched beds need to be deeply scratched to find those worms within, you see, and then there’s the magic of The Compost Pile.  Oh the delectable wonders to be found in that monstrous pile of stank (if you’re a chicken, that is).I have set the compost bucket down to open the gate.  They have found it.

And then that window closes.  Slams shut, if you ask them: whaddya mean, we need to stay in here all day?  Their protestations are mighty.   Squabbles break out.  Feathers fly.  They are now confined until Happy Hour, usually around 6pm-dusk.  And they can tell time, so…at 6 you better be prepared to spring them loose.

The reason for their confinement?  The garden has been planted!  Yes, St. Patrick’s day, traditional pea- and potat0-planting day, was wonderfully warm and even sunny, so I locked up the birds and began the season.  These wily critters easily can fly over the 5′ fence encircling the gardens, and once they do, inevitably they will scratch up things that they should not.

Queen Ruby asks “but can’t I stay?  I won’t scratch things as much as the chickens,” to which I reply, no, m’dear.  She loves sprouts even more than worms.  (and notice the greenhouse roll-up side is up!  this is the earliest ever that I have had to do that.)

On things that happen when you’re not paying attention

This–and chicken soup–would make anyone feel better

So.  Last week was an eventful one:  I spent it in the hospital.

Granted, I was not sick.  Our daughter was.  Asthma.  Scared us all half to death.  She’s fine now; in fact, she’s playing tennis Monday and looking forward to snow tubing and cross-country skiing on her upcoming birthday weekend.

But yes, hospitals.  She learned the important life skills of opening a milk carton and opening a bag of chips.  How they expect patients to get well while eating such crap is beyond me, but then again, perhaps that’s the point and icky food helps the bottom line.  So she sampled her first powdered potatoes and gravy, breaded chicken, iceberg lettuce, white bread and Froot Loops.  And her parents ate take-out for all meals.  Yes, a greenhouse salad was a welcome event on Saturday night.

I would spend all day and night at the hospital, and return home in the morning to milk the goat, feed the critters, answer work emails, and shower. Fun week!

Thursday morning:  While letting the goats out for their morning passagiatta to the mailbox and back, I heard the tweeting of the feed-stealing sparrows in the chicken coop and went to chase them out.  Instead, five tiny madly peeping bantam chicks greeted me in the straw, with a mightily defensive mother flying at my head.  What an idiot, that hen:  who sits eggs in January?  It was maybe 15 degrees outside and there was no way the chicks could live in the cold, so I collected them in my pockets to put them in a makeshift brooder.  I turned around to see that the goats had followed me and were now themselves eating the chickens’ feed!  Dang caprines!

I flew at them, pocket chicks shrieking, snow flying, lunging with the dog to get them out of the henyard.  Feathers flew as all the yard birds took cover, making a huge ruckus, crowing, cackling, and the damnable guineas pealing.  The goats ambled out, licking layer crumbles off their lips, while the dog and I fumed out behind them.   It was an amusing sight, surely.

And yes:  I simply thought the mother hen had escaped about three weeks ago. She’d flown out of the henyard and I assumed she’d, you know, made a break and gotten lost and/or eaten.  In hindsight of course I had wondered why I hadn’t any bantam eggs in a while, but I also figured it’s the dead of winter so goodness maybe the girls were giving themselves a break.

The babies are now living in the toasty confines of the goat shed.  Anyone want any bantam chicks?  Just let me know!

On changing seasons

Every year I go through incredible seasonal denial when the earth tips away from the sun.  I need actual physical events like the first threat of frost to jolt me back to reality.  Frost!  Crap! In the first week of October?

Chilly broccoli

So yes, frost.  Brr. I guess it’s no longer summer.

Patchy frost too.  “Killing frost” as many Floridians know is a magical number: anything below 28* for something like 4 hours of time will severely damage tender vegetation, citrus trees, etc.  But “patchy frost” here means there’s frost in the lowest-lying areas only, and perhaps the thermometer didn’t dip down quite so much as to outright kill all vegetables still standing out in MY garden.

All buttoned up.  I wonder if those tomatoes on the bench will ever ripen…

I thought ahead, though.  This weekend I put the plastic back up on the end walls of the greenhouse.  People of Southwest Michigan should thank me:  my precaution all but guarantees we’ll have a scorcher of an Indian summer.

But inside the house this weekend?  Spring!


The school’s egg incubator came home with us on Friday.  (I kind of insisted:  they were due to hatch today (Monday) and I…had a feeling they’d hatch before then.)  We excitedly heard the peeppeeppeep from the first eggs Saturday night, and I was up helping the first one hatch at 3:30 a.m.  Another followed on Sunday night.  They’re back at school now, with more eggs hatching.  The house is almost too quiet now.


If that’s not adorable enough, we also have baby bunnies.  That says “spring” to me too.

Five, or make that six, or even seven, funny bunnies

On the killing season

From the Class of 2010:  Peaches (left, a roo) and Eagle (right, a pullet)

The wind is coming in strong puffs, and it’s bringing with it the smell of the lake.  I’m not too happy about the task at hand.   I am dry-plucking a chicken.  A half-grown chicken, actually, a half-grown bantam…that’s practically no chicken at all as he probably only weighs a pound, a pound and a half.  Four and twenty of them, yes, might just fit in a pie:  I am holding him by his legs and I believe I have eaten bigger frog’s legs in my lifetime.

I had to put the guy out of his misery, you see.  His foot had gotten stuck in the little fence surrounding our back yard garden, and his compatriots had pecked him into a stupor.  I seriously doubted he’d recover from his head wound.

Poor guy.  I know I am either grimacing or am biting my lip; I try to just relax and do what is needed before my husband and daughter get home.  Poultry deaths aren’t easy, unless they’re expected.

It’s been a year of lots of birth and little death around here this year.  Six turkey poults followed the original seventeen of this spring.  (We kept three.)  Twenty-eight chicks have hatched under various chicken mothers; of them, eight of those cute bantam babies died when their idiot bantam mother decided she needed her nest up on top of a box, and the chicks couldn’t reach it, dying of exposure in a 60-degree night.  I walked in to the goat shed in the morning gloom and thought, who left these kleenex lying around, when it was little bantam bodies I was seeing on the straw.  And then this little death in my hand:  we’re left with twenty.  Plus the twenty-five meat birds (Freedom Rangers, much overrated) and the five girls whose egg-eating habits have sealed their freezer fate…as you can see, exponentially, the poultry population explodes every summer here.  And it recedes in the fall.

We’re keeping two laying hens out of the twenty home-hatched babies that remain.  There are three female bantam chicks who might live another year too, depending on how generous I am feeling.  All the home-grown chicks are amazingly colorful, but all the bantams have their father’s boring white plumage.  With all of them, I stare and think “Who’s yer ma,” hearkening back to one of the putative definitions of Hoosier (i.e., one of the thing Indiana residents said in days of yore was this direct question of your parentage:  who’s your ma, who’s your pa, who’s your folks?, who’syer, hoosier).  Daddy is definitely known:  he’s our handsome Black Sex Link boy Mary Ellen, and he’s lent speckles to every baby.  All the chicks are named and cared for by our daughter, which is why I was hurrying in my grisly task.

Plucked, gutted, de-headed, de-footed; this little creature is reduced to nearly nothing.  He’s crowed his last croaking adolescent crow.  I pluck the last of his down off his waxy skin, hose him off and bag him up for the fridge.

On new cute fluffy things

First goats, then bunnies, then turkeys…now chicks!

Here’s the first chick conceived and hatched on our farm.  Congratulations go to the bantam for sitting so patiently.  This is a half Araucana, half black sex link (Barred Rock/Rhode Island Red) so…s/he’s quite a mutt, chicken-wise.  So tiny!

Small packages don’t get much cuter than this.  Cheepcheep!  Happy Friday….

On broody hens

Chicken Patty is sitting again.  And she’s cluckingly, spittingly mad.  Doesn’t she look tough?

Amanda asked what one does with a broody hen determined to sit on unfertilized eggs.  I had been hoping at least one of our 25 hens would get the urge:  the clock is ticking as we do want some chicken in the freezer this year.  This is our first year with roosters, too, so with hope the eggs, should someone decide to sit them, would be fertile.  I had even gone so far as to secure the lease of an incubator when blammo! Everyone has the urge to sit.

Last year we had no roosters but Chicken Patty (our lone meat bird) went broody.  Not willing to miss an opportunity, I let her sit on some duds for a week and THEN I stuck six day-old chicks under her, one at a time, substituting chick for egg.  This worked!  Jerusha and Johanna and Nice Rose are clucking around the barnyard today and their three brothers went to Freezerville.  But I know this plan only works if you actually want more birds.

I have no direct answer for you, Amanda, but I am sure others will tell you in the comments.  Eventually, this too shall pass…perhaps harvesting the eggs while wearing gardening gloves is an option.  I have heard extremes like sticking the girl in a wire dog kennel, off the ground, and she’ll come out of her broodiness in a day or two.   Me?  I wouldn’t go that far, but then again I want a broody bird or three.  Like most of chicken-keeping, it’s a matter of adjusting to their quirks (“Hey, my chickens are digging up my garden!”  “Well then get them out of your garden!”) that I have found to be both fun and somewhat frustrating about having them around.

I suppose they could say the same thing about me.  We’ve certainly got each other very well trained.

On the birds

The bantams, true to their reputation, are broody little birds.  Here, a Golden Sebright and a Mille Fleur d’Uccles patiently wait out their confinement in an old dog kennel.  They’re sitting on about 2 dozen chicken and wild mallard (!!) eggs.

Chicken Patty says she wants to be the first meal coming out of the masonry oven.

And who in the world could take care of 17 children?  I don’t wish it on Ruby so the majority of them are now under lights.  She gets to raise the three we intend to keep.

And this little fellow has been living in and around my garden the last two weeks.  Very shy, you gotta wonder how he got where he is.  I explained it to my daughter this way:  “Do you remember when you lost your first balloon when we were at the county fair when you were 3?  Well, that’s probably what happened to this family when their little bird flew out the window.  There’s nothing you can do but cry and watch it fly away.”

Bunnies for sale!

Hey:  have a yen for a funny little bunny?  Live nearby?  Willing to part with $15?  Then email me!

You know you want one

Pedigreed Mini-Rex bunnies for sale:  black and black otter in color, born 3/3/10, just weaned, six total.  Super soft and cuddly!  Both parents are small, under 4 pounds.  $15 each.

On chicken saddles

I’ve wowed you with caprine couture, so how about hen habiliments?

Mary Ellen and The Colonel, our two full-sized roosters, have been fairly aggressive with a couple of our girls this winter.  They stand on their backs and pull the girls’ back feathers out in the heat of passion.  Poor biddies!  Time, then, for some costumes, straight from the bench of my dear mother-in-law’s whirring sewing machine.  And my dear husband whipped up this template for you to follow along at home.  Print it out on 8-1/2″x11″ paper.  Use elastic bands for the arm loops, heavy canvas for the body, and of course you can embroider “Keep Off” on the saddle itself!

Here’s a video

Poor Sister Wendy

As you can see from Helen’s and Caroline’s rears we need a few more.  Everyone else seems to be able to get out of the roosters’ way.

On the egg onslaught

“She’s set it down, but it’s not food!” Disappointing Blanche, Nice Rose and Emilie just for a photo

So we passed something of a farm record last Friday:  one dozen eggs in one day.

Then, the next day, we got 13.  The next, 15.  Holy frittati!

This surprises me, though the numbers shouldn’t.  It’s one of those math puzzles I have such a mental block about:  I am getting eggs from hens whom I don’t consider egg-layers.  So, philosophically, I have three categories of chickens:  egg-layers, meat birds, and bantams.  The bantams, quarter-sized chickens, are simply cute yard decorations.  But all three categories of chicken (25 girls) lay eggs.  Year-round, apparently!  It really picked up after the December solstice.  So:  each bird lays an egg every 36 hours or so (less if they’re young) and so, duh, I should have a dozen eggs a day.

(If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, El…)

I “expect” eggs from my stalwarts like crazy Pauline the Egg Machine (she’s a Leghorn) and Verloe, the RIR.  And all the new egg birds are just that, new, so they’re in their most productive year.  Likewise, all those extra meat birds I couldn’t bring myself to slaughter (3 thus, still unnamed) AND their clutchmates are eggy now too…as are the cute Bantam chickens (Janet, LaToya, Rebbie and Featherfoot) with their even cuter half-sized eggs.

But yeah, we’re awash in eggs.  Luckily, I have customers!

On flock protectors

Don’t mess with her

It’s a good thing that Ruby is in with the chickens!

The dog was whining terribly, and as I couldn’t really hear anything over the music I was playing, I let her out…to see a hawk in the chicken run, fighting with our hen turkey.

Ruby got the upper hand, I have not a clue how.  The hawk was terribly injured, so I put it out of its misery.

Ruby is fine, though flustered.

Don’t blame me for this one, says Little Edie

On the flock

Welcome, Edna!

About a week ago, we got a knock at the back door.  It was dark out (and we have no lights on the back porch) so we figured it was something pretty important.  Honestly, the only visitors we have out here are delivery people, and that is with enough regularity that we know their names, even their birthdates…anyway.  The other people who come to our door are proselytizing types, but that’s usually during daylight hours.

This was a neighbor who lived two doors down.  I had never met her.  But:  she had a chicken!  A poor, lonely chicken whose sisters had all been eaten by a raccoon who had clawed his way into their pen.  Could we possibly find a home for her in our flock?

So, here she is.  She’s a Buff Orpington, but is really tiny, and shy.  I’m hoping her ashy comb reddens up, but she’s beginning to feather out nicely.  I cornered her in the chicken condo for this picture:  you should have heard her clucking with indignation.  She’s been picked on, but she just usually hangs out with the other low-totempole chickens.

Queen Ruby

Ruby and Earl (the turkeys) are living with the chickens now too, because, well, they like the company as they miss the geese.  So:  this makes 31 birds in the back yard.  Wait:  did I just say that?  That’s a looottt of birds.

On turkey hormones

I knew this would happen.

Our turkeys are fighting.


Baby stands tall in the back

Granted, Thanksgiving Dinner (a/k/a Baby) was never destined to be a long-term resident around here, but…we had such peace until early this week.  It’s in the nature of things, I suppose, this desire to be “top dog,” but it’s disturbing nonetheless, this bloodlust: even the mother hen Ruby is in on it.  “What’s going on with the turkeys?” asked our daughter.  I asked her if she remembered when Mel, our mellow gander, turned mean, and she said “yeah, didn’t he have a poison in him?”  I had forgotten that I had told her he had “testosterone poisoning.”  That led me to give a lengthy explanation of hormones and how they act as chemical regulators in our bodies, “and you have a tiny bit of testosterone in you, too, girl.”

“I know, and it hurts right here,” she said, pointing to her heart.

Baby is something of a miracle baby, after all.  Ruby, his mom, sat on 9 eggs until she got attacked by a raccoon (the bastard got into her gated, latched pen) who ate all her eggs, and messed her up a bit.  I knew the instinct to sit was still with her, so I went on a wild egg hunt, grabbing what I could around the house/yard…tough going considering I had just sold the eggs for the week.  So, in a newly reinforced enclosure, Ruby got to sit on one fake egg from our daughter’s toy kitchen, two fertile goose eggs, seven infertile chicken/guinea eggs, and one lonely week-old turkey egg from the refrigerator.

On Mother’s Day, out hatched Baby and Jeffrey the gosling.

They’ve had a grand time ever since.  Ruby is a fabulous mother, and Earl is a fabulous though goofy father.  They’ve been a garrulous threesome ever since, following us around, making threats at the dog, in general, being rather gorgeous traffic-stopping yard statuary (“Are those turkeys?” from passing motorists).  But now Baby is in exile in the chicken pen, and sleeps by himself on the porch roof or back deck.  He’s bigger than his father, which surprises me.

P1010831Like father, like son

Happy Halloween

P1010756Nixie Knox says bawwwkbawwk!

We tried to tell her “But Nixie, everyone LOVES chicken!”

P1010746Nixie says I am so not amused.

Have a spooky holiday!  And parents:  Try to save some candy for the kids.

On goose stories


Happy days in the back pasture: Mama, Daddy and baby geese

The grand goose experiment is over.

We found a great home for our mated pair, Mel and Yoli, on Friday.  Monday was the day their babies went to the butcher.

IMG_2750Geese, chicks and tiny turkey at the far right center

I am a little wistful about Mel and Yoli. As goslings, I loved their soulful eyes, their yellow-trimmed gray coats, how solicitous they were to the turkeys (same age, but much tinier), allowing them to climb onto their backs and under their wings to sleep.  They grew to be sweet full-grown geese, flying around the place when released from their pen, always up for a gambol, a stroll about the property with us.  Puberty happened in spring and we found out I didn’t have two ganders and a goose, we had two geese and a gander.  The non-bonded girl goose became the odd girl out, and the first in the freezer.

IMG_1233Nest-sitting Yoli and three-day-old Jeffrey

Mel and Yoli (named after Tom’s great uncle and aunt, a kooky couple) had a radical personality transplant when they became parents.  Jeffrey was their first-hatched gosling, brought out into the world by Ruby our turkey hen.  Ruby knew he was no turkey, so in the pen with his parents he went, little fluffball that he was.  I figured Mel would either attack him or accept him.  (Yoli was sitting 10 eggs, her parenting energies thus directed elsewhere.)  Mel of course accepted Jeffrey and the six goslings that followed him.

P1010483Baby Turkey and the geese, doing a little puddle work in the drivewayThis is as close as I could ever get to them.

Nine geese is a lot for any farm, especially one without a pond.  Of the seven goslings, one died fairly soon after hatching and one gosling got “spirited away,” just vanished one night (first time that ever happened here).

Like anything on this farm, any new undertaking has to be a joint venture.  Tom neither liked the live geese nor liked them as dinner, so…I can cross geese off the list of self-sustaining, easily-raised home poultry.  It’s a bit of a shame because they’re more flavorful and easier to care for than chickens; they graze constantly when the grass is green and otherwise are much more self-sufficient.  They don’t even need a shelter in our climate!  They just need some dry straw to nest in so their feet don’t freeze overnight.  I am really glad Yoli and Mel have the opportunity to raise more babies in the future.  I really thought they were adorable.

On new eggs


The daylight is shortening yet we’re getting lots more eggs.  Magic?  Nope!  Young chickens.

Since we have kept chickens, I have always known who laid what.  This was not rocket science, as it’s rather easy to tell a white egg from a light or dark brown one, a spotted from a blue. This has been a rather convenient ability, as we can tell who’s ailing and who’s well, plus, it makes breakfast choices more easy:  “Whose eggs do you want today,” I ask the girl, “Pauline’s?  Letha’s?  You haven’t had Maggie’s in a while.”

But now, I find I am rather stymied at egg harvest time.  Lined up on their towel, newly washed and wet, I turn them over with my fingers.  It’s like we have chicken company or something, and the feeling is quite surprising.  Whose are YOU, little speckled one, little pointy brown one.  And new eggs from new chickens are indeed surprising.  Often, they don’t have the kinks worked out in the system, so double yolks are quite common, as is the somewhat gross jelly egg (soft, unformed shell) and–once–the egg-within-the-egg total freakout.

I am glad we like eggs.  With the wee bantam eggs, hard-shelled guinea eggs (guineas are stalwart daily layers in warm months, feedburners the cold months, so I guess it averages out), and now eggs from both laying hens AND meat chickens…we had better like them!

A tale of four roosters, in Seven Easy Steps

This is the year that we decided to move our chicken ranching up a level by breeding our own meat and egg birds.  Raising chicks, though rewarding, is hardly any human’s idea of a fun time:  it’s an ordeal.  And frankly, there is no substitute for Mama Hen as far as chicken smarts goes.  There’s too much to learn and we humans are poor teachers in the ways of All Things Chicken.

Step One in this venture: we’ll need two roosters, one for our egg girls and one for our meat girls.

Step Two was to decide what kind of egg-laying birds we wanted to breed.  Our motley egg-laying flock currently includes six dual-purpose (egg/meat) breeds (Australorps (Maggie), Orpington (Sarah), Wyandotte (Helen), Rhode Island (Verloe), Plymouth (Letha), Black Sex Link (Mary Ellen)), and two egg-laying breeds (Leghorn (Pauline), Ameraucana (Phyllis)); all hardy souls that can be found readily in almost any American henyard.  We wanted to try to raise birds that were threatened with disappearing according to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, and were a hardy, low-maintenance, calm bird, so we selected the dual-purpose Speckled Sussex, a breed known for its curiosity and kindness.

P1010337The Colonel

Step Three is to decide which of the meat roosters will remain to be THE rooster.  Chicken Patty raised six adopted meat chicks this spring, of which three were cockerels.  They are all currently in the henyard and so far one white slow-growing Cornish (like mama Patty) is showing promise of being a gentle soul. Chicken Patty, two red broiler chicks (Nice Rose and Sister) and one more white slow-growing Cornish hen (Girly) round out the meat bird crop, and all will soon have their own coop and run.  SO:  The name for the new meat-bird rooster?  The Colonel, of course!

Step Four in this venture was the acquisition of five bantam chicks.  Bantams are diminutive chickens:  usually they are a third to a quarter the size of regular ones.  Because they were bred for their size, chicken traits common in other birds (eggs, meat) were not a factor, nor quite frankly has any bantam selected for docility.  In fact, they’re rather flighty birds, both literally (they can fly anywhere) and figuratively, as in, they’re unapproachable.  They’re a lot like our guineas, in other words; lots of sturm-und-drang.  One of the quite useful traits that hasn’t been bred out of bantam chickens is the urge to sit eggs and raise chicks.  Should any of our girls decide not to sit their (now newly fertile) eggs, I figured having a few banty hens around would help as bantams don’t care whose eggs they sit on.  Consider them the surrogate mothers of the henhouse, our Plan B for incubation and hatching.

P1000703Poor little Ellis

Step Five isn’t really a step, as I thought I had thought this through.  Of the six Speckled Sussexes we had, one was a boy, Ellis, and therefore destined to be Egg Chicken King.  However, he became sick!  His illness caused me to break the #1 House Rule (No Poultry In The House Unless Plucked and Gutted) and did time in my office in a cardboard box, enjoying his scrambled eggs, milk and cornbread. I didn’t hold out much hope that he’d live, though, and it breaks my heart because he was so pretty.  Indeed, he died, a few days later.  There goes my hope of having home-hatched Speckled Sussex chicks next year.

_DSC7237Michael Jackson

Step Six:  what in the WORLD am I going to do with five bantam roosters?  Only one crows, though, and is quite a terror.  He’s the cute white chick my daughter insisted upon buying this spring.  As putative songster king of five boys, I started calling him Michael (as in Jackson), way before His Weirdness’ death of course.  He even crows his name!  MiCHAEL JACKson.  Then, magically, we started to find little bantam eggs in the nestbox.  Apparently, the other four are girls!  (sigh)  And, unlike his namesake, our little Michael actually likes girls.

_DSC7235Mary Ellen

Step Seven:  WHY is the Black Sex Link pullet, Mary Ellen, crowing?  Ah.  I think we have found Ellis’ successor in the egg-bird rooster department.  Mary Ellen (whose name is sure to be changed, or not) is a nice calm bird, very attentive and solicitous of everyone but Michael Jackson (who terrorizes any and all birds).

So…maybe I will have mutt egg-laying chickens after all.  There are surely worse things, including raising the chicks yourself.

On subcontracting

On Monday morning, my calendar flashed my appointments for the week.  “What in the WORLD could I possibly have scheduled for 7:00am on Wednesday morning?” was my bleary-eyed question to myself.

Here’s what the calendar said:  “7:00 a.m. Chicks 12 weeks”

Ah.  It’s much more clear now.  The meat birds are ready to be butchered.


And boy howdy are they!  Unlike the last two batches of meat birds that I have raised, these feathered friends are actually CROWING in the morning.  It’s past time, it would seem like, for them to be freezer fare.  What a big task ahead for me:  I received 52 chicks in the mail the first week of June.  Eleven of these creatures were exempt from butchering, as they’re the new crop of laying hens (plus rooster).  Chicken Patty gets a husband and at least two sister-wives, so there go another 3 chickens.  And then there’s the turkey baby, and then there’s the 5 goslings, who are now full-sized geese.  Thirty-eight chickens, one turkey, and five geese.


I happened to be on a post-movie panel discussion last month with the woman who runs our Eat Local listserve.  She came out to the farm and graciously took three of my new laying hen chicks, plus extra rooster, off my hands, as she had decided Speckled Sussex was what she wanted to concentrate on for her own dual-purpose birds, but (sadly) a raccoon ate all but two of hers.  So we were doing the Chicken Talk thing, and I asked her how often she made it out to my neck of the woods (she lives closer to Kalamazoo, about 45 minutes east of me) and she said “every time I need to butcher the chickens.”

Apparently, the guy in town with the sign on his lawn that advertises deer processing is an all-around butcher, and he charges $2.50 a chicken, and $7.00 for geese.

Part of the reason I am doing this whole poultry-ranching thing is to have a complete connection with the entirety of what goes into our meals.  Butchering the birds is a part of that, albeit a not terribly pleasant part; I do it alone, as my husband wants no part of it but the eating, and all my friends are not exactly…the types of folks who get into this kind of thing.  To do all those birds would take every weekend day from now until October.  But:  $2.50 a bird!

I checked out the guy’s facilities, chatted with him for a while, and have made another calendar date regarding the chickens.  But this time the date won’t surprise me.

P1000608Turkey girls love playing King of the Hill.  Earl of course just likes to show off his stuff “to the ladies.”

The Chicken Tractor, round two

Those little chicks I mentioned a while back are now between six and seven weeks old.  For the last two weeks, most of them have been living in the Chicken Tractor.

P1000288I’m still ambivalent about using this thing, feeling as I do that confinement is confinement and a perfect world would have them safe in their own enclosed pen, where they could scratch and dustbathe and in general do anything their chicken-y hearts desire.  This, however, is not a perfect world.  In my perfect world of the future, this is the last (knock wood) year I will be ordering chicks, ever, as I will now be handing the chick-rearing reins over to Chicken Patty, a husband, and a sister-wife.  Roosters likewise will be culled from our new egg-layers, as we have a rooster of the egg bird persuasion now too.

P1000294Hi!  You have treats for us?

But back to the tractor.  My concern for these birds makes me check up on them multiple times of the day.  I move it, then, three times a day to ensure they get their fill of fresh grass and clover.  I also verify that the tarp cover gives them at least 3/4 of their space in the shade:  it doesn’t get super hot here (highs at most in the low 80s) but I don’t want them to be uncomfortable. They get fed two times a day, with a two to three hour gap between feedings.  Unlike the first batch of meat blobbos that used the tractor last year, these slow-growing CornishX (the white ones) and some slower-growing red broilers move more, they perch, their poop is a lot more “processed” and they HATE lying in their own poo.  There are 35 birds in this tractor, for now.  Once they get to be about 12 weeks, half of them will be housed elsewhere (including the freezer) as I think they’d be too cramped in there when they’re all that big.  Full-grown birds should all be ready to go, then, at 16 weeks, though last year I waited longer than that.

P1000281Four of Patty’s babies in the grapevines

As a point of contrast, Chicken Patty’s adopted chicks are a lot smaller.  I attribute this to two things:  one, when the other meat birds had 24/7 feeding under the light of the heat lamp, the babies under Mama Patty got used to the idea of circadian rhythms.  And two, Chicken Patty’s six babies are running everywhere, all day long.  Patty did a wonderful job raising them until she didn’t, incidentally.  When they were just over a month old, her egg-laying cycle kicked back in, so she started roosting in the coop with the other egg girls, leaving her babies behind.  I am not sure if this is just nature or if Patty is just a flaky young teenaged mother, or what.  The babies sure can fend for themselves, though, doing a fine job foraging and dust-bathing and keeping themselves together.  There are three roos and three girls.  One of the boys will be Patty’s future husband…though not a blood relation, is this, uh, Oedipal?

On new pets v.2.0


_DSC5270 They…


When I came home from work Friday, our bunny had a new friend, another mini-Rex like himself, also a young bunny.  They’re getting along just fine.

On new pets

A week or so ago, the feed store yielded up another creature to add to the menagerie at this house.  Considering it was my birthday, I figured this bunny was for me.  I was mistaken.

bunny  036He’s a baby, too:  born at the end of March

Isn’t he cute?  He’s a mini-Rex rabbit, and oh so soft.

My daughter told a friend, “We didn’t get a girl one, because I don’t want my mama to eat her babies,” which I thought was hilarious, but slightly spot-on:  I do eat everyone else’s babies, apparently.  But this guy is lucky, he’s no eating rabbit.  And I am kind of laughing at the whole Pets or Meat thing, but then again, this is Michigan, where the economy (always) sucks, and I think Michael Moore is more spot-on than not.

P1000234Little Edie, our great huntress, oversees the new creature.  (Don’t worry:  the rabbit chases her, as well as the dog.)

And he’ll need a friend for warmth in the barn, so…we’ll be getting another (boy) rabbit soon.