Posts Tagged ‘cage free chickens’

It’s like Easter every day

August 26, 2009
Lula Mae's old nest

Lula Mae's old nest

We now have two pullets who are laying eggs. Holly laid her first egg Monday, though she spent at least a week getting ready. I have now learned how to tell when a pullet is getting ready to lay. First, they get noisy – lots of cackling and clucking. The wattles and combs will get bigger and redder when they are near laying. They also start nesting. That sounds a bit obvious, doesn’t it? But they will make a nest (assuming you don’t have nest boxes, that is), usually somewhere dark and covered. Lula Mae, the first pullet to start laying, picked a spot in a raised bed that has a pine tree and bush growing out of it, as well as other plants. She made a little hole in the bark in an area that was quite secluded. She laid there for a cople of weeks, then switched spots. She made such a nice nesting spot that the cats thought they would lie there. I suspect that is why she moved her nest. It took us a while to find the new nest, though we had an idea of where it was. It turns out it was in the back of our shed, in a place that only the kids can get to since it has a little doorway leading to it.

Doorway to Lula Mae's new nest

Doorway to Lula Mae's new nest

Holly decided the garage would be a good place to lay. She had beein going in there making a lot of noise for a few days. She even found a box that was perfect. The kids and I shredded some newspaper and put it in there, but then the kids (OK, Mo) decided to empty that box out and move it later that day. So we tried to make a different area for her and she seemed interested, but kept going back into the garage. Finally, Tim got that same box ready so that Holly could lay in there. That’s where she has laid her last (and first) two eggs.

Holly's nest box

Holly's nest box

The other 20 chickens, the Buff Orpingtons, have been out ranging for a week or so. There have been no major skirmishes between the two flocks. Anytime Chicken Joe goes near the other chickens, they scatter. Joe is very secure in his position as top rooster. I have noticed the Orpington roosters (3 so far, not sure about a couple of others) fighting a bit and doing the mating dance next to the pullets. The Orpingtons are now 16 weeks old.

So the question that keeps popping into my head is, “What are we going to do when we get 19 eggs a day?” It’s a question that gives me a slight panic. Not a real panic, more of a I-better-figure-this-out-soon kind of panic. Mo suggested we slaughter (her word, not mine!) some. But then the kids thought maybe we should sell them. We can do that, of course, but there are some restrictions about that. Maybe I can just sell them to family and friends? I told the kids it would be a family business. They think it’s fun to collect the eggs since the chickens are day-ranging and we do not have nest boxes. Aidan keeps saying it will be like Easter every day! And he is right.

First egg pictures

August 12, 2009

OK, I managed to get the pictures off the card from my camera. Hooray! Tim insists that my camera is fine and that I just need to charge the battery now. I will try that and see how it goes.

Anyway, now I have a ton of pictures to post but I will just do a few for today and then some more for tomorrow. So here are some of the first egg we found. This was found in the accidental garden right near the house.

First egg laid near house

First egg laid near house

This is the egg after we put it in the refrigerator. The other eggs are from the store, but are also pasture-raised.

The egg on top is the first egg

The egg on top is the first egg

This is from when we cracked open the first two eggs. One of them had a double yolk. I know this isn’t a very good picture, but it’s the best of the ones I took.

First two eggs cracked

First two eggs cracked

And here is a picture of the roasted chicken we had. It was the first time we ate food we’ve raised and butchered ourselves.

LemonButt

Roasted chicken

Chicken breeds

May 21, 2009

When I started this blog I had intended to write a whole lot more about the whole process of getting chickens. I had read so much, including lots of good blogs, books, magazines, websites, etc. One of the things I wanted to write about was the process of choosing which breed to get. We carefully thought about whether to start with pullets or chicks, when to get the chickens, how to get them, how to house them (which we are still debating about!) whether to get layers or fryers or both, etc. I even spent a bit of time trying to figure out which breed to get. Some breeds are really good layers, but they aren’t good at foraging. Some are good meat birds, but again, aren’t necessarily good at foraging.

One of the best resources I found was Chickens, which was a Hobby Farms publication. The chart in the magazine was based on Henderson’s Chicken Breed Chart. This chart is super useful in helping choose a chicken breed. Some people just want eggs, and lots of eggs, making the Leghorn a good choice since it has been bred to be a profuse layer (at least the production Leghorns). The chart indicates how big each breed gets, which makes it useful for those who just want meat. It includes a bit of history, the colors, whether the hens will sit on the eggs (broodiness), whether the breed does well in the heat or cold, and whether it is adaptable to confinement, free ranging, or could go either way. 

Some chickens are dual purpose, which means they can be used for eggs or meat. There are chicken breeds that have been bred specifically for laying (Leghorns are most commonly used in the United States) and meat (Cornish Cross). The reason they are popular is that they convert feed to eggs or meat very efficiently, so they are the cheapest breeds to use for those purposes. However, they are not good for every hobby farmer or backyard chicken keeper. 

My requirements for a chicken breed were:

  • a breed that is fairly friendly and docile so I don’t have to worry about them attacking the kids
  • a breed that is dual purpose in case we decide to let our flock grow and have some for meat and some for eggs
  • a breed that is somewhat broody for the same reason as above
  • a breed that is cold hardy as our winters can get pretty cold

I was also interested in chicken breeds that are rare or uncommon, as listed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC). I was really interested in the Delaware, because it is rare and is very cold hardy. Delawares were commonly used for meat before Cornish Crosses became so popular. Getting Delawares is a problem because none of the stores sell them, which means you have to order them from a hatchery, which means a minimum order of 25. I was not ready to have 25 chicks when we started out. So, I was left with the choices at Farm King, which were not very good. Then Ang. recommended Farm and Home Supply in Keokuk (she’s also the person I bought the Buff Orpington chicks from). I called them up and they had much better choices. For some reason, though, the stores did not always have on hand what they said they would have. So when I went to Farm and Home Supply to buy chicks, but it turned out they did not have the breed I had decided on after my phone call. Fortunately I had my copy of Chickens and was able to pick out New Hampshire chickens. The New Hampshire is a great dual purpose breed. They are supposed to be good layers and adaptable to free range or confinement.

In hindsight, I think it worked out well that I didn’t get Delaware chicks since they are white. I would be much more worried about them getting eaten by hawks than I am about the New Hampshires. Our chickens have free ranged the last two days and have put themselves in their coop. I’m not too worried about them because it’s hard to spot the chickens ranging when the grass is tall (though it might be easier to see them from a hawk’s point of view). Even so I am sure they do not stick out as much as a white chicken would. I am still interested in the rare breeds, but am happy with the New Hampshires and the Buff Orpingtons.*

 

*New Hampshires are on the watch list and Buff Orpingtons are recovering, according to the ALBC website.

Aidan finds a snake

May 18, 2009

OK, I finally finished a post I have been working on for a week. I have it scheduled to post tomorrow morning. Now, just because I spent a week on it does not meant it is some fantastic post. I hope it is, of course, but mostly it took me that long because I just don’t have a lot of uninterrupted time to sit down and write. So I write while the kids are watching TV or playing video games. I still get interrupted to get them stuff or to feed the cats, or sometimes I just have too many kids and cats on me to do any typing. Anyway, I hope you will like the post tomorrow. I wanted to post something that took a bit more time and that was more than a post about what we are doing here on the farm. I mean, I hope the day to day stuff is also interesting to anyone who reads, but as interesting as it can be, it can still get boring to read yet another post about kittens and chicks.

Having said that, here is another post about animals. The difference is that this one includes a snake. Yes, a snake. We lived in Phoenix for 8+ years and I didn’t see a single snake, even when playing in the washes at the park. We also rarely heard coyotes. Now we are in rural Illinois, which is not a place people associate with snakes and coyotes, and we have seen two snakes and hear coyotes almost nightly. Last week when Scott the Farmer and Farmer Clayton found a snake under a stump that had been lying in one of the crop areas since last fall. Clayton went to move it and there was a snake under it. He said it was a cottonmouth. Then on Wednesday Aidan saw a snake close to the front door (but up the hill, so not anywhere we would normally walk). Tim snapped some pictures so he could look it up. The guys say it is a Northern Copperhead. I don’t really care what it is called. I don’t really want any snakes in my yard where the kids walk barefoot! EDITED on 9/3/09: This is NOT a copperhead snake, but is probably a rat/corn snake.

Snake

Snake

Here is a picture one of the kids took of the Buff Orpington chicks we got last Wednesday. I’m almost embarrassed to say that I have not taken any more pictures of them. I suppose I’m trying not to get too attached to them since they are destined to be eaten. They are still cute, though. We put in a roost that we had used for the New Hampshire chickens when they were little. I’ve seen some of these tiny chicks on the higher roost and it is so cute!

Buff Orpington chicks

Buff Orpington chicks

The pink bucket had a bit of cow feed in it. It looks and is very similar to the chicken feed, so it’s not wonder they were confused.

Chicken in bucket of cow feed

Chicken in bucket of cow feed

Here are the big chickens (the New Hampshires) enjoying some cage-free time. This garden bed was unplanted at the time, so don’t worry! For some reason the kids had dug little holes and the chickens loved it.

Chickens in an unplanted raised bed

Chickens in an unplanted raised bed

The chickens eventually discovered that they could fit into the holes. I think this was the first dust baths we’ve seen them take. They really liked the holes!

Chicken in a hole

Chicken in a hole

This is one happy little chicken! She was even making some happy little sound and was really relaxed when the kids came near.

One happy hen!

One happy hen!