Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Backyard Chicken Workshop

More and more my husband and I have been discussing giving back to society.  As we have more time on our hands than money, it has become important for us to give back in a way that is less financial and more hands-on and spiritual.  

We have contemplated various outlets and organization but never felt the right fit.  The timing wasn't right. Our expertise wasn't there. Or we just plain didn't have a connection to the cause.  We both needed to feel it and we weren't.

So many times I have heard that "timing is everything" or "everything happens for a reason".  While I truly believe both statements, never have they both been so clear.

Today the stars aligned though various friends and connections and we will hopefully begin offering a quarterly workshop on How to Raise Backyard Hens, bringing awareness to the community.

We are both cautiously optimistic about our new found "pet" project and hope to share the wealth of knowlege we have gained over the last year of raising and caring for our Ladies.

Details will follow as soon as they are worked out.

Our Buff Orpington, Fran, eyeing up her first egg!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Breakfast on the Patio

After a lovely rain the ladies took their yogurt breakfast on the patio.  Love their little yogurt coated beaks.  Who knew this would be such a treat.
Staring:  Fran, Felicia and Marie.  Additional appearances by Lois (yellow tag) and Delores (Blue tag)

Natura's Chicken Coop with a View - Other Animals (Google Affiliate Ad)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Here Comes The Sun

Since bringing home those adorable baby chicks back in April I can say (without question) that I have learned something new everyday.  And, with the exception of Lois, our youngest chicken, the ladies are all now large, lovely egg producing hens.

For the last two months we have been averaging four eggs a day and, any day, now Lois will bring that number up to five.  It has been a thrill each day collecting our bounty.

Now I have learned yet another new chicken fact.  Chickens take issue with winter, specifically the lack of daylight.  The ladies are finicky about their sunshine quantity and hold back the eggs as mother nature holds back on her daylight hours.  Just when we were getting a steady production, mother nature shuts us down.

As far as I'm concerned, the ladies and I have come too far to let this little snafu get in our way and after a bit of "Googling" and a bit of foraging in the storage shed. we had our solution.  A "Faux" sunrise  was installed the the coop late last week, an outdoor light set on a timer.   "Voila"!  A new sunrise to hopefully keep the ladies in check.

Will they get it?  Will it work?  Or have I just installed a crazy chicken interrogation lamp?

Day one:  There were five seriously confused and tired looking chickens.  Having them in bathrobes and curlers would only have made the image more perfect.  Better yet, it was as if I had awakened the teenager on his first day of school.  I swear they were squinting and bumping into each other and asking who set the alarm sooooo darn early?    And when does the interrogation begin?

That night the lamp gets moved to simulate something closer to sun-rise and less "Old detective movie".

Day two:  The ladies appear less confused and go about their regular morning routine.  The food and water is now lit up and its breakfast as usual.  Only two eggs today...

The ladies before the dawn

Day three:  It worked!  Back to 4 eggs a day.  And the ladies seem to be happy to be back to work.

On a side note: if there is no rooster present, one of the hens will take on the "rooster" roll call and attempt to Cock-a-doodle-doo at sunrise.  Fran, our "faux rooster", thankfully has not adopted the new sunrise as her call to arms and still does her crowing at the actual sun rise.

Fran, our Buff Orpinton 

Friday, October 26, 2012

And Then There Were Five

Last week we lost our beautiful Bard Rock.

While the only details I am willing to give are that the untimely event was thankfully, fast and hopefully, painless to lovely Betty, I am still trying to come to terms with and make sense of her sudden death.

For the "farmers" out there and the non-chicken people, the sight of me in my backyard in total distraught over a dead chicken probably seems ridiculous.  But, there I was, standing in my backyard holding my lifeless Bard Rock and crying like a baby.  Her death seemed senseless.  Her death seemed mysterious.  Her death seemed useless.  And I was speechless.

Last week we lost our beautiful Bard Rock chicken.  While the death still seems mysterious, senseless and unwanted, I am have come to terms with its usefulness.

It feels quite odd for me to describe a death as useful but in a way the loss of the Bard Rock has helped the flock.  While I thought of her as the one holding the flock together, her willingness to share time separately between the thee Buffs and the two Dominiques was keeping them apart.  In the week plus since her passing our two young Dominiques have really come into their own.  Both once shy and only willing to hang with the Bard are now out and about with the other hens.  Both has lost their irrational fear.  Both have grown up a lot in a very short time.

We miss Bard Rock Betty but the loss has allowed for growth and removed a sub-set of hens.  The flock is a complete and single set.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Drought

Today a valuable and scary lesson learned:  Chickens need water.
Of course I already knew this, this wildly important tid bit essential to all life forms. I did not, however, expect my  chickens to give me a clue to their survival.

The chicken's food and water supply is checked daily...until this morning. Last night the supply was fine. Water. Check. Food. Check. This morning an unusually early appointment had me out the door and on the road. A rushed coop/run check from my kitchen window and I was gone.  Admittedly and ashamedly I only did a head count.

Tonight the ladies were their usual "happy to free range" selves as I set them free from their run, though I found something odd. Two of my ladies had seriously discolored Combs.  An unusual sight but something to Google later.

Time for the supply check.  Food, check.  Water...the water container is empty. Bone dry empty!  As I walk with the container over to the faucet I have a convoy of feathered friends in tow.  Barely do I get the faucet going and the water container filled and all the ladies are having a good LONG drink. 

Not long after their bellying up to the water cooler the Comb coloring has returned to normal. There is a sign I never want to see again. There will always be time made fore the ladies.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On a roll! The ladies have started cranking out those eggs

As of yesterday we had reached the 11th egg mark.  We came so close to hitting our first dozen in just one week!

It is official, all three Buff Orpingtons are laying.

The photo above is Marie, our first layer and below are the first of Marie's eggs.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Egg!

After 23 weeks of patience, care and lots of laughs and antics, our Buff Orpington, Marie, has produced her first and our first EGG!  We could not be any more proud.

Over the weekend Miss Marie was exuding some strange behaviors.  We have come to expect the unexpected as "New Ranchers" while raising chickens but Marie's actions were disconcerting.

All weekend she was noisier than usual.  Angrier than usual.  All weekend was her "Winter of Discontent". Poor chicken.  Something was happening to Miss Marie and she didn't seem to understand, nor did we. Several times we found her wandering aimlessly in the tool shed, pecking and squawking.  She was looking for something she couldn't seem to put her beak on.

This morning, like most mornings I was behind schedule.  While I wanted to take a moment to say Good Morning to the Ladies, my short visit to the coop would only upset the girls.  They would want to free range and I wouldn't be able to give them the time.  They were all in the run, nestled in and content and something seemed strange.  Marie wasn't pacing or clucking.  She, too, was content.

Hours later when I arrived home from work, the ladies were set free to range about the yard.  As they peck about for bugs in the yard I peek in the nesting boxes where I had, weeks earlier, stashed two plastic "Easter Eggs" as encouragement and reference.  There they were.  One brown plastic egg.  One white plastic egg. AND...One brown egg.  ONE BROWN EGG!!!!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Pecking Order Or When Doves Cry

Since childhood I think I have understood the very basics of the Pecking Order.  It seems pretty self-explanatory.  Pecking is involved which, in turn, creates some time of order.  At least this is what I believe my 7 yr old self would have agreed to.  Now in my 40's, I'm still pretty sure that holds true.

As baby chicks there doesn't seems to be any pecking order.  As baby chicks they barely knew how to peck, let alone take that skill out on a sibling for a more advanced status in the flock.  In the first few weeks it seemed everyone was on the same level playing field.

Time marched on for the chicks and in the process a new sense of self for each of my feathered babies.  While there still was no "pecking" order among the Buff's, there did seem to be a hierarchy of sorts.  Felicia was the brave chicken willing to explore.  Fran and Marie would follow never straying from the flock.

At three weeks of age we upset the delicate chick balance and bring in two day old Dominiques, Lois and Deolores.  At week four, in comes two day old Bard Rock Betty.  This is where we see the beginning of a Pecking Order or just plain sibling rivalry.  Either way, the Buffs were quite content tormenting their younger peeps, forcing the "newbies" to take up residence in their own customized incubator.  (And yes, each group was housed in my home office for six weeks while their coop was being constructed)

Once all six ladies made their move into the outside world there was a bit of scuffling and posing for their place in the flock.  There was chasing and posturing.  Squawking and flapping.  It was all pretty short lived.  We breathed a sigh of relief and wrongly assumed it was over. 

Here we are at weeks 21, 18 & 17.

The apple cart has turned over yet again and we are establishing yet a New Order.    Big no longer means best.  Our quiet little buff, Marie has taken charge.

Marie has established her voice.  Literally.  She clucks.  She clucks and she means it and if you are in the flock you darn well better listen.  She clucks.  She flaps her wings.  She half runs, half flies to let everyone know who is boss.  Everyone, including the neighborhood doves who occasionally stop by at the feeder.  Heaven forbid they land in the grass or they get a piece of Marie's mind and the flailing, flapping spectacle we have come to love.
Marie, top dog

So Marie is on top for now.  Felicia and Fran fall next in the pecking line.  Surprisingly, the youngest, Betty is in that center mix.  She doesn't challenge but she is not afraid to muscle in during treat time and get her share of the goods.  At the bottom of the chicken pile are the sweet little Lois and Dolores.  Neither girl is willing to get in anyone's way or fight for a treat.  They wait their turn in the back, hoping for an opening.  I always make sure they get in.  No chicken left behind.

On a side note, last night, after the treats had been doled out and the ladies went about their pecking and bug excavating, Dolores came over to me.  bottom of the pecking order, Dolores.  She let me pick her up and she sat on my lap.  She just sat.  There is something about the underdog.  The underchicken.  My heart melted.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Meet The Ladies

It seems I have been remiss in properly introducing the ladies of our lives.  For that I apologize.

The Buffs are now at week 21 and we are hoping for eggs in the very near future but we shall see.  Though I try for the "no pressure" approach, I am trying to encourage through opening up the nesting boxes and "hinting" with a few faux plastic eggs.
The 21 week old Buff Orpintons.
Fran, Marie and Felicia

Bard Rock Betty (18 weeks) enjoying some yogurt while Lois and Marie wait for a peck.

Delores fanning her tail feathers. 

Marie LOVES her yogurt snack

Delores and Lois interrupted from bug hunting.  They are now 19 weeks.

Betty enjoying the garden

Marie has really grown into that lovely comb

Everyday these ladies surprise and delight me.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Week 21 - Our First Cluck

It happened tonight.  
My precious little buff orpington, Marie, clucked!!!

It was a real cluck!  She meant it! 

It IS the little things...

Miss Marie.  First to cluck

Monday, August 13, 2012

And POOF they were chickens

My first batch of chicks came home at the beginning of April.  Easter weekend.  My Easter Peeps were cute and yellow and fluffy. Three weeks later their siblings arrived.  They were cute and black and fluffy with little yellow butts.

Over the months we have had our brood of chicks we have watched them grow.  The early days were lightening fast.  Every morning's peek into the incubator brought a new size chick.  Sometimes it seemed in the blink of an eye they grew.

As of late, the chicks (now teenage chickens) have been in a holding pattern.  Day after day I greet them each morning and free range them each night and I see no change.  The Buffs are the Buffs, the Dominques remain demure and Betty the Bard Rock is unchanged.  Would they EVER get big?  Would they EVER become chickens?

A few weeks ago my husband and I went on a long awaited pilgrimage/vacation to where I was born.  A long weekend to celebrate his birthday, my class reunion, a family reunion and our first wedding anniversary.  Apparently, when you jam-pack that much into a four day weekend the chickens decide to pack on the pounds.

We left on a Thursday.  I told the ladies to be good...  I told our teenager he was on high alert as Chicken Guardian.

We returned on a Monday night.  We returned to CHICKENS.  In the span of just five days my chickens went on an eating/growing frenzy!  Thank goodness for the color coded ankle bracelets we gave the ladies the week before or I would not have known my girls.  They were bigger.  They were taller.  And just as anxious to be set free and free range.

They each have their little combs.  Their tail feathers are a bit bigger.  They stand a bit more proud.  My girls are growing up nicely and, while I miss their little peeps, I love what they have become.

Fran & Marie on the patio

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Eat Your Vegetables!

While researching the art of raising happy, healthy, content chickens I learned it best to keep treats near by in the event you need to move the ladies swiftly into their coop or out of harms way.  (Or, if you just want the buggers to come to you like you are the Pied Piper) And for or me, the word treat conjures up images of unhealthy but oh so good tasting morsels of food.  For chickens the treats need to be healthy but what would they consider a treat?

Research suggested the trial and error method in finding out a particular flock or individual chicken might like.     What would be a good chicken treat?  Bugs?  Highly unlikely that I will be toting and handful of beetles or the ever popular meal worms in my pocket. We start with strawberries.  Ladies loved 'em but they were messy and seemed like a pricey treat on a daily basis.  Strawberries would become Special Event treats.  Cantaloupe came next.  Another chicken favorite but again, a messy treat to carry in one's pocket.  Cantaloupe becomes the frozen treat hung in the run on hot, muggy days.

Day after day there is more trial and more error in our hunt for the perfect treat.  More and more I'm beginning to feel like I have a picky flock toddlers who refuse to eat their strained peas.  (No, I did not actually try strained peas on my flock.)

Research suggested the vegetable category.  Most popular on the lists we found:  corn, broccoli, carrots and cabbage.  And so we try bits of cabbage, raw and cooked.  Nope.  Broccoli got the same reaction, a resounding NO.  Carrots, NO.  Finally corn. Who doesn't love corn?  Apparently, my chickens do not.

I begin to think I may have to carry meal worms in my pocket.  An idea that falls significantly low on the appeal list.  Then, one afternoon while the ladies are out free-ranging, I take a peak in the fridge in hopes of something they might like.  The only untried item left is a sad, slightly wilted looking head of cauliflower just past its prime for human dinner.  With nothing to lose at this point I rip off a section of the cauliflower and march out to the happy little ladies.  I clap and call to the girls in my usual manor and eventually one or two head in my directions to see whats up.  I sit in the grass and offer up the white wilty vegetable chunk.  There is a peck and a squawk.  Then another peck and another.  Suddenly the alert has been sounded and I am surrounded by all six ladies madly pecking and flinging cauliflower in all directions.  Its like I've come bearing a tray of cotton candy to little tykes.

We have found it.  Of all things the ladies love cauliflower.  In the weeks since cauliflower has become my calling card.  I don't leave through the back door without it and the ladies know it.  All it takes is a clap and the call for my "ladies" and they come running to me like I am the mother ship.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Zen and the Mood Altering Chickens

Since day one with my little peeps (now three months old) I have touted their Zen nature and their ability to work like tiny, fluffy Xanax on my occassionally stressed out soul.  All it takes after a difficult or long, tiring day is to sit in the yard and watch my ladies free range.  They peck and scratch and find little bugs and bits of flower to eat.  They fly through the air with awkward, adorable delight. They coo and peep and most recently decided to cluck. And, after enough free range time, they occasionally come sit on my lap.  

It is well know that I have zero patience to just sit.
With my ladies around me it is easy to just sit and RELAX.

My inner circle is well aware of my Zen Chicken Philosophy.  They hear it on a regular basis.  I can't help but mention my awe at the calming affects my chickens have on my psyche. My husband hears on an almost daily basis my love for my chickens and the happiness they bring.

Until this last week my "Zen Chicken Philosophy research" had revolved only around minor stresses of everyday life and the chickens came through every time.  Until this last week my chickens "job" of keeping me stress free had been a piece of cake.  A job they could do in their sleep, and a job they sometimes did in their sleep.  (Yes, I have watched my chickens sleep and darn it, they are cute)

This last week was a bad week.  BAD.  

In the course of three days:
  • I helplessly watched a tiny kitten be mauled by a vicious dog.  My efforts to save the kitten were unsuccessful and she died in my arms.  
  • A dear friend died unexpectedly.  
  • And my precious 16yr old Border Collie succumb to heart failure.  
It was a bad week.

Finally, the end of the week arrived and my dear, sweet husband picked me up from work and took me out for drinks to a favorite spot.  We stayed for one and headed home.  As much as I wanted to be, I was not in the mood to be "out on the town".

We arrived home.  I jumped into a pair of shorts and headed out to the ladies.  As I opened the door to their run and set them free to range I made comment to the fact the ladies had their work cut out for them.  I wasn't sure even my Zen chickens could puncture the dark cloud of sadness.  I needed a double dose of "Chicken Xanax".

My ladies did not fail me.  Their flapping, clucking, scratching and general silliness warmed my heart. I don't believe for a second they fixed the problems of the week but they did make my heart lighter and happier.  They let me remember that its not all bad and you still have to smile.

They ARE Zen.  
They ARE mood altering chickens.  
Each and every one.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Key West Coop DeVille, a true LABOR of love

Bringing baby chicks into our home and building them their own place has been a labor of love.  Did I mention LABOR of love.  Lots and lots of labor and they better love it!

Somewhere a long the way I convinced my adoring husband that we needed chickens.  We needed little baby chickens that we could nurture and love and watch grow into stunning hens who would, without question and lovingly, provide us with breakfast (eggs).

Now, if you are going to have chickens you are going to have to have a coop.  Sounds easy enough.  If I want something unusual or out of the ordinary I do the expected.  I GOOGLE it.  And I did.  I GOOGLED coop after coop after coop.  Coops on wheels, ready made coops, easy to assemble coops, large coops, small coops, plastic coops, nuclear Holocaust-Safe coops.  I saw it all.

Somewhere a long the way my adoring husband convinced me that we needed to build our own coop.  We could build it cheaper and bigger and exactly the way we want it, he said.

Our efforts have created Key West Coop DeVille.  Watch as it all comes together.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

My babies are growing up

My babies are growing up.  As of June 1, my baby Buff Orpingtons are eight weeks old.

Every day.  Every single day my ladies have changed and have grown.  In the blink of an eye a growth spurt could be missed.

In the first weeks of life it was all adorable fluff and silly, quiet peeps.  Zen-like sounds that soothed.  As they matured, they were still adorable and their peeps still charming and zen-like.  Even through their dinosaur/ugly duckling phase they managed to calm and stay sweet.  I have been afraid of losing that sound.  That calm.

Yesterday I arrive home from the office and quickly change into my "free-range" attire. The ladies hear my voice, snap to attention and are ready to range.  Then I hear it.  I hear an unfamiliar voice.  My dear, sweet buff, Felicia has replaced her tiny peep with a newer cluck-ish sound.  What surprises me more than the change in her voice is the lack of change in its zen-like sweetness.  My ladies voices are changing, growing and I am still in love.
Baby Felicia
Felicia at 8 weeks

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

This is an adorable coop.  It was on our short list of ready-made coops until we opted to up our flock to six chickens.

As I watch my ladies grow from day one...

to now 8 weeks

I'm quite certain they would not fit in the cute coop.  These ladies grew up so quickly!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Only In America

Only In America can we have Don King chickens!
Wish I would have shot the photos yesterday when the ladies were sporting an even larger Don Kind Do.

Delores, the Dominque

Lois, a 3 week old Dominque

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Never Ending Tweak

We are now just passed weekend three of the coop build.

Sunday night the finishing touches, or so I thought, went up...The metal roof panels.  My wonderful husband spent two days sawing, measuring, pounding and screwing the steel "Key West" panels into place.  The final steps...or so I thought.

Last night we "tweaked" the coop door.  Tonight I look out at our creation and I see places that require wood filler.  There is a spot that needs touch up paint.  WE FORGOT TO ATTACH the bahama shutters!

Back in my college art days I remember how difficult it was to stop painting.  So hard to realize when it was complete.  I'm having a flash back to those days.  I don't know when to stop the coop build.

Here it is to date...

Coming soon....the step by step slide show.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Week 2 - Outside adventure

At week two I am more in love with these silly little peeps.  They have been such good sports hanging out in my office and I decided it was time to let them experience the joy of a warm sunny day.  The video is of them still in their "home" but they were allowed out to free range.
Outside Peeps

 Miraculously, they had no urge to venture far from "momma hen" (me) and actually ended up jumping up on my leg to hang out.

Here are the 2 week old buffs on their first adventure.

And I couldn't have done any of this without the help and knowledge of

Friday, May 4, 2012

Day #1 with the Baby Buff Orps

Does it get any cuter than tiny, fluffy, peeping balls of baby chicks?  For me, apparently not.

Good Friday, April 6, 2012

After work, my wonderful husband and I head of to a place called the Red Barn.  I can't even say how many weeks of research and reading and trips to scary pet shops led us to this lovely baby chick haven.

At the Red Barn, we are greeted in the chicken area by a lovely, kind woman named Betty who, no doubt, knows everything we need to know about chickens.  I want my baby chicks to feel as secure in my hands as I felt in the hands of Betty, chicken whisperer.

We ask questions, we ogle and coo over the different breed of chicks. (OK, to set the record straight, I MAY have been the only one cooing)  Who to pick?  Who to pick?   All the research from the last several weeks has launched into a black hole in my brain.  For the life of me I can't remember which breed is nice and which is naughty.  Which breed likes heat and which likes cold.  Egg-layer? Roosters? Big chickens?  Little Chickens?  Bard Rock?  Modeled Java? Foghorn Legorn? Take a deep breath, Sarah.... Do what you do best.  GOOGLE IT!

We walked out of the Red Barn with our heat lamp, pine shavings, 25 lbs of baby chick feed and this...

After their video shoot and my teary-eye proclamation that I was already in love with my new babies, we made it home to their new, temporary abode.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Chicken Chat

Who knows what possesses a person to take a certain path?  A year ago I would not have seen my path taking  me down the road to a chicken coop.  Yet, here I am.  Here we are: me, my husband, my step-son, two dogs, two cats and six baby chicks. 

Welcome to our adventure...which began on Easter weekend, 2012.  Perfect timing for Easter Peeps.

Stay tuned for photos and videos of our peeps in progress and the coop construction which will hopefully result in a Taj Mahal rather than a construction debacle.
Me and the peeps at about 2 weeks old