Chicken Mission

RIP Catniss…

Catniss passed away today, leaving a soul-sister, Buffy the Buff Orpington.

Buff-and-Cat 

Cause of death is unknown, the family speculates that her heart couldn’t take the stress of her first molt.  She always had a weak constitution and was prone to inexplicable seizures.

Catniss-2

Catniss the Chicken- A freakier chicken there never was…

March 2012-May 20, 2013

Rest in Peace

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Chicken Mission

Molting…Not Revolting

Molting-Girl-009I’ve been having to travel quite a bit recently for work, and my sweet, wonderful husband has been taking care of the girls full-time.  So one phone call, he says, I’m worried about one of your Barred Rocks.  I don’t know if the other chickens are pecking her or if she’s sick, but she looks terrible.

Luckily, I had noticed that one of the girls was shedding a lot of feathers the weekend before. So I felt relatively confident when I told him not to worry about it. I was pretty sure one of them had started her molt. As long as she wasn’t acting sick or bleeding, “Don’t sweat it, sugar lips.”  Sure enough, I arrived home to this sweet little victim of nature.

Molting-Girl-018

Luna.

Luna lovegood

Totally makes sense.  Jenny, Hermione and Minerva are full-feathered, laying and content.  Luna goes into a winter molt.  Poor dear-she’s weathering it well, though.

Always antisocial, now she seems a little more so.  She’s stopped laying-who can blame her.  This process looks exhausting.

Molting-Girl-020She was, not surprisingly, a little camera-shy.  Especially of her caboose.  Again, completely understandable when one has an uncharacteristic bald spot. She really is a hot mess.

I can’t help but wonder when the others will succumb to this annual ritual of renewal.  They’re all the same age (almost a year old) so I would think, very soon.  They’ve been such rock star chickens!  Their egg production didn’t even really slow across the shortest days of winter.  Superstars!  And although they are a little freaky and stinky, they’re always interesting and sweet.  Molting, not revolting…

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken Mission

A Chicken Named Katniss

I had been growing increasingly concerned about Bella.  Something was off about her.  She was erratic and aggressive, and something just seemed off.  Then one day I noticed that she had tremendously large feet…In comparison I mean.

You see, Bella lives with Buffy and they’re about a month apart in age.  But Bella was growing fast.  Faster than any of the other pullets.  And her comb…it was so full and red comparatively.  (I know you guys know where this is going.)  So Saturday I googled pictures of four-month old gold-laced Wyandotte.  Sunday, I texted the breeder pics of my little friend….and Bella  officially became Bill.

Sunday afternoon, we took Bella, I mean Bill back from whence she, I mean he came.  Unfortunately the breeder had sold all of her Wyandotte and Partridge Rocks.  In fact the breeder had nothing in the same age bracket.  So I became the proud owner of a roughly 4 week old Rhode Island Red. You’ve got to roll with the punches, right?

Luckily, we just finished an expansion to our coop.  In fact Buffy and Bella..I mean Bill, had just moved in. Enter, the guinea pig cage.

Our new Rhode Island Red is now Buffy’s new roommate, but she’s still too little to roam within the coop.  She’ll be relegated to the guinea pig cage for a  week or two until everyone’s acclimated.

So of our six little darlings, five of them were named after Harry Potter characters. Bella was in fact Bellatrix LaStrange-the whacked out psychotic witch (which actually kind of worked for him).  So what did we name our new little Red?  Well, here’s a hint.  My girl has moved on from the Harry Potter series over the last few months.  We’ve moved on to The Hunger Games…

 

Chicken Mission

The Official Chicken MissionRecap

I had chickens as a kid.  Let me correct that statement.  My mom had a flock of free ranging bantams.  And I’ll be honest. I hated those chickens.  Due to their prolific elimination, I was labeled with the moniker of “chicken doo foot” for a couple of years of my childhood.  There was also this horrible little rooster that would chase you at will.  He had gigantic spurs for such a little rascal.  My older brother spent a lot of time and energy feeding a deep anger toward that rooster, and would inevitably torment the chicken as much as the chicken ever tormented the rest of us. I don’t remember why mom got rid of them, but I remember it being a happy day.

Needless to say, it was a little confusing for me when I realized I wanted some. It was counter to everything I’d stood for as a young person.  I was a confirmed chicken hater.  I can’t even tell you when I stopped.  Probably about the time I started thinking about the experiences my children weren’t having.

I was raised in the rural agrarian south, with all the life experiences that went with it. My friends and I grew up with an understanding and appreciation for livestock and the work that goes into it.  My kids are somehow managing to grow up in the new rural south. A place where it’s actually possible to maintain a weird kind of quasi-suburban lifestyle.  I’m not really okay with that.  If you’re going to grow up in East Texas, you really need to understand and experience the whole rural agrarian thing. Otherwise, I might as well park them in a Dallas suburb and move on.

On top of all of that (and oh, how I hate to be a lemming but…) the whole industrialized food chain thing is freaking disturbing.   I just want my kids to be able to eat an egg without wondering what the idiots have fed the chicken.

So I had chickens on my agenda for several years before I pulled the trigger.  It was the unexpected gift of our little red coop that pushed the goal to reality and launched my three month chicken intensive as chronicled on Such the Like.

Today I’d like close out my generalist’s study of poultry keeping with a list of really important things I’ve learned about chickens the last few months.  Because as it happens, I really knew nothing when I started.

1.  They poop.  A lot.  And their poops are all different and some of them are weird, which can make you paranoid about the quality of their poop.  And you find yourself inspecting their poop.  Boo.

2.  They’re work.  Before I brought my ladies home, I had been told that a backyard flock was little or no trouble.  “You throw them out there and feed them. No big”  I can’t agree with my friend’s statement.  Refer to number one on my list.  Chickens poop a lot.  I don’t like the way poop smells.  I don’t want my neighbor to smell poop.  I like him. It’s not something he should have to worry about.  So I spend some time making sure the coop is maintained.

3.  Plan your coop.  I love the little red coop! There are a lot of things about it that are awesome.  There are also a lot of things that aren’t working for me right now.  It’s important that food and water be easily accessible for the chicken and for the human.  My chickens have no problem getting to their rations.  Unfortunately for me however, I have to crouch or kneel to change them out.  Not ok! You don’t want to be kneeling in a chicken coop people (reference #1). So I’m  looking at improvements to our coop to keep it from being a complete hassle-especially during the summer.  We have a lot of 100 degree days inTexasduring the summer.  I need this coop maintenance thing to get a little more streamlined.

3.  Chickens can be brutal.  Granted there was the mean rooster from my childhood, but that was a rooster.  I thought hens were laid back, gentle, and generally vacant.  Not so much as it turns out.  The stories I’ve read will curl your hair…and the whole cannibalism thing! Wow.  My ladies have spunk! They’re feisty!  They’ve got that certain look in their eye, and I’m keeping my eyes on them.

4.  Certain chickens are good for certain things.  Make sure you’re purchasing a breed that works for your climate and your goals.  For me, it was good layers that are heat tolerant and docile.  Don’t get sucked in by the babies at the feed store. Do a little homework.

5.   The more time you spend with them, the more gratifying the experience.  But isn’t that how it is with everything?

Chicken Mission

A Plethora of Poultry: The Desk Reference Edition

So I’ve been quasi-obsessed by the chickens.  I know it and you know it.  Given my track record, no one should be surprised that I’ve been reading and googling incessantly. It’s probably time to give a recap of the great resources I’ve found and utilized.  Maybe in the process, it will give me closure and I’ll be able to bring the chicken mania to a more reasonable level of engagement.

I started with Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow

This book was epic.  It provided me with more detailed information on the care of poultry than I could absorb. I waded through it, but I felt like I needed something a little more streamlined to get me off the ground.

So I downloaded The Working Chicken by Anna Hess.

This is a succinct well-organized e-book available for your Kindle through Amazon.  It cost .99 and was a great read.  I felt like between the two, I had a good basic overview (Hess), as well as a desk reference (Damerow) that I would be able to go back to when needed.

So I moved onto magazines, which is very much my MO.  Of course, first there’s the mothership…It does not disappointment.

Then Hobby Farms Annual Poultry Issue

Then Chickens…Hobby Farms’ “Essential Poultry Publication”

And of course, there’s the litany that is my Chicken Blog Roll…

Many of the following blogs a present a staggering array of detailed (sometimes graphic) information that poultry keepers need to know.  They are passionate about their flocks and their posts demonstrate intense connections with the animals they keep.

ADozenGirlz, The Chicken Chick

Fresh Eggs Daily

Lessons Learned from the Flock

Tilly’s Nest

The Tangled Nest

Eggs and Chickens

For the Love of Chickens

HenCam

My Pet Chicken

Backyard Chickens

There are a ton of resources out there, and the enthusiasts are true enthusiasts.  Many of the blogs I’ve highlighted are absolutely beautiful, and the bloggers have brought chicken keeping to the level of art.

If you have an interest, enjoy! I certainly have.

Chicken Mission

Bella and Buffy

I love the Hogwarts’s four, but the group just cried out for a little more diversity!  Enter Bella. Our new three month old Golden Laced Wyandotte.

Bella is absolutely beautiful!  She’s also about half the size of the original Hogwart’s four.  Believe it or not, this came as a surprise when I got her home.

In my mind, she’s three months old-they’re about three and a half months old… I figured after a short quarantine period, I’d easily be able to introduce her to flock.  I fully expected the whole “pecking order” thing.  I didn’t, however, expect Hermione to freak out and hammer Bella’s head like she was a snake or something.  Lesson learned.  I quickly extracted Bella and she now resides in our recently launched chicken tractor.  At least until she catches up on the chicken growth chart.  But here’s the deal.  She looked so little and lonely in the tractor all by herself.  Not to mention, the Hogwart’s Four kept staring at her in a relatively hostile way.

I felt terrible for her.

Enter Buffy, the Buff Orpington.

This one’s a corker!

She’s two months old and from the same breeder as Bella.  They bonded quickly and now the tractor is a happy little island of chicken cuteness.

Bella is actually Bellatrix LeStrange, the whacked out witch from Harry Potter.  I love the name Bellatrix, but my daughter argued, “Mom, this is a sweet chicken! Not an evil witch chicken.”  I told her she had a point, but what can I say, I like the name Bellatrix, Bellatrix LaStrange?  I think it’s an awesome name for a chicken.  She thought about it and said, “Well, i guess Bellatrix was actually kind of pretty in a really freaky way…”  We were still mid-debate on Bella’s name when we brought our little Buff Orpington home.  I knew immediately what her name had to be.  There could be no other name for this one.  It had to be Buffy the Buff Orpington.  Buffy, named in honor of  that bombshell demon killer, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  That’s it! We all agreed.  Buffy and Bella.  Bella and Buffy. Right about this time, my husband walked in and said, “What? Now we have a group of vampire themed chickens?”  No honey, it’s just a happy accident.  Chicken destiny….rock on….

Chicken Mission

New Construction of the Tractor Variety…

I knew from the beginning that I wanted a chicken tractor for my hens.  The coop is awesome, but I feel like they need to be able to stretch their legs, and free-ranging just isn’t a good option for us right now.  I also knew that my chicken endeavors are just that, my chicken endeavors.  The spouse has not been an active participant.  He’s a darn good listener, but he has  granted me lots of space on starting our little flock.

Imagine my amazement when he willingly took on the project of tractor construction!  And finished it!

He even managed to involve the male offspring (girl child wasn’t having it).

Of course, it could be that one of the fellas helped more than the other.

I’m not naming names mind you…I’m just saying…

So this will be our mobile coop-our chicken RV, if you will. We can position the tractor strategically, moving at frequent intervals (1 to 2 days depending on how many occupants), and those little rascals will eat bugs, pull weeds, and fertilize our pitiful, pitiful backyard.  Score!