It’s been a month of highs and lows at my little hacienda. Ta da! Our first egg!
We still haven’t ferreted out which of the Hogwart’s four is our layer. I plan to stalk the henhouse this weekend. I think it’s Jenny Weasley.
I know I should love them all the same, but Jenny’s my “bff” chicken. She’s the only one who lets me pet her. Either that or she’s scared of me and she’s dropping in fear…nah, I’m sticking with the first version where she loves me and lets me pet her.
On with the happenings. Behold my beautiful garbage can potato plants
Blessedly, we’ve been getting a little rain over the last few weeks. This time last year, we had already begun our 100+ degree heat and relentless drought conditions. So again, I say, the rain is a blessing. A blessing that pairs with oppressive humidity, which breeds mold and fungus….
Fungus…aka early blight. So…darn…maddening! The potatoes had done so well! I was so proud. And yes, I know I talking about them like they’re already dead and gone, but my optimism is strained on this one. I cleaned away most of the speckled leaves. I did everything I could figure out to do for them. If we can limp along a little, maybe I can salvage new potatoes?
I’m probably a little more upset about the potatoes than is rational because my favorite climbing rose is struggling with a brutal case of Black Spot, and my cucumbers look to have a virulent case of powdery mildew. I don’t have a green thumb, I have a spotted fungus thumb! So sad…
This climbing beauty will soon be a nubby, aggressively pruned beauty.
But then, there are a few bright spots that balance the spotty victims in my landscape.
My Zinnias from last summer volunteered this year! I love them!
They’re such a cheerful companion for the herbs and veggies in my raised beds.
My squash and zucchini threaten to overtake their companions…
And if I could get the slugs and beetles to chill on my Mr. Stripey, he promises some tomato goodness very soon. (I couldn’t bear to pull that Zinnia like it was a weed!)
Note the giant Tomatillo plant in the background of the next shot. It’s been blossoming relentlessly for months. The butterflies love it! Unfortunately, they don’t bother to print on the packaging that Tomatillo plants need to cross pollinate in order to fruit. I have only one…therefore, it will never fruit.
Really? Don’t you think that might be good information? To put on the stick with the growing conditions? Just saying…
But really, who cares about the weird Tomatillo situation when you turn around and find this.
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…
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Enter Buffy, the Buff Orpington.
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….
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!