Tag Archives: chickens

Easter Egg Hunt

The cold winter has taken a toll on egg production and on the cleanliness of the coop.  I use the deep litter method.   For you non chicken raisers, that involves starting with a very clean coop, putting down a few inches of pine shavings or fine straw, then piling dry straw, leaves, etc on top and stirring it up every day or so like compost, adding more straw or leaves as necessary.  If this is done correctly, there is no odor and in the spring, you have a coop full of hot compost to add to your pile for further decomposing.  Because we have hay fields and they are mowed and baled each year, I squirrel away 2 round bales that are stored near my coop and covered with a tarp for use in the coop.  I know, you aren’t supposed to use hay, but so far I haven’t had any problems.  Because hay generally isn’t as dry as straw, I do have to fluff and turn it daily and keep all ventilation holes open whenever the temperature is above freezing, but because of the cold and snow this year, the birds are spending more time indoors than I would like.  As a result, it has been harder to stay on top of the turning and fluffing.

It isn’t spring yet, but I was beginning to detect odor and knew that something needed to be done.  Leaving the compost part in place, I removed most of the hay from the coop and threw it in their run.  Pulled out the last of one of the big bales that had gotten very dry and added a new thick layer in the coop.

The chickens are very curious whenever I am doing anything inside their coop and they always come to supervise.  They lean out the open doorway, peck around in the corners, and get just where I need to be.  As soon as I put an armload of hay down, one would push it around and make a bowl shaped nest in it.  I would shoo one away to put hay down and another would be there.  By the time I finished layering new hay in the floor of the coop and under their perches.  Removed and replaced the old hay from their nesting boxes, I had about half of them in the coop making “nests” in the floor of the coop and trampling down the fluffy new hay.

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I’m betting that today’s egg collection will be an Easter Egg Hunt throughout the floor of their coop.  Funny birds.  I just wish spring would come so that the egg production picks up.  At least I have gotten eggs all winter.

Live is an adventure on our mountain farm.

Spring time? We wish!

A week ago it started to snow and snow it did for 30 hours, a record breaking snow, more than a foot and a half.  Last night it rained and this morning, the remaining snow was spotty.

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We loaded the dogs in the Xterra and drove an hour southwest of here to the Harley Davidson shop to get more body armor for Jim’s jacket.  He wants desperately to ride, but the roads are still too wet and muddy.  Ranger was allowed to go into the shop with us and as usual, his 200 pound bulk attracts attention and everyone wants to have their picture taken with him, to give him love which he reciprocates with kisses and smiles.  Shadow was leashed and made it as far as the foyer before her shyness kicked in and she began to tremble.  One clerk came out and gave her some loving too and she finally came in too, but hid behind me.  The dogs love the rides and the plain hamburgers that they get as a treat.

Today is 60ºf outside, very springlike.  While we were gone, it melted most of the remaining snow.

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We have one more day of this then it rains and cools down again with another snow storm due early to mid week next week.  We will take what we can get.

Yesterday afternoon, I went over to the coop and pen to spread scratch grain for the chickens and there was one head too many.  A small 5ish pound opossum was in with the chickens scratching for food.  He showed no fear of me, hissing and growling at me as I tried to encourage him out of the pen with a garden stake.  He just hunkered down in the farthest corner under the pen.  With a pitchfork, I dragged him out and penned him down, then grabbed his tail and hurled him as far from the pen as possible.  He landed in the snow, got up and shook off and waddled away.  This afternoon when we got home, I went over to see if he had returned and to collect eggs.  In taking the above photo, I managed to drop the basket with the 3 eggs and broke them all.  Three more hens were in the coop, so there may yet be a few more today.

Life is an adventure on our mountain farm.

And the Day After

The snow finally ended around 5:30 p.m. but the wind picked up and the dry snow is being blown into drifts deeper than knee high.  Our total was around 17-18″ (44+ cm), deep enough that a walk uphill to take pictures of the road and the house from the barn was very tiring.  One of the deepest areas is a shallow rounded cut between the garage and the chicken coop that is there to drain water from the driveway away from the house and on downhill.  I get a bootful every time I go over to make sure the chickens have food and water and to collect eggs, even with my Squall pants Velcroed over the outside of the barn boots which are taller than my snow boots.

Today is clear and bright with a very brisk wind blowing, but the temperature is above freezing.

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Several weeks ago, we watched a news item about a snow phenomenon that I had never seen before, or at least not notices.  It occurs when the wind blows across the surface of the snow, rolling it like you would a snowman, sometimes creating solid balls, sometimes a donut or pipe shape.  Much to my amazement when I went over to do morning chicken chores, much more difficult in deep snow, I spotted them in the yard.

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The dogs continue to romp and leap through the snow, rolling and playfully attacking each other until they are exhausted.  I haven’t figured out how to get them to “plow” me a path over to the coop yet.  After nearly an hour of moving snow, packing snow down and digging out one of the hay bales, I got enough hay on the snow to coax 6 of the fuzzy butts out to eat and drink.  While busy adding more hay in the run to give them a bit more space to be outdoors, I heard a racket inside the coop and found two hens trying to occupy one of the six nesting boxes together to lay their morning egg.   That was rather amusing but after checking under the one who had claimed it first there was only 1 cold egg, so I guess I interrupted them.  The hay is re-covered as we may get up to 3 more inches tonight.  That chore will have to be repeated again tomorrow.  I don’t want to keep food and water in the coop.  All of the cold weather and snow we have had has taken a toll on the coop’s cleanliness and even the deep litter method struggling to keep up.

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. . . The Storm

Two days ago, I blogged about the preparation that we go through each time a storm is expected.  The preparations were completed, tub and jugs filled, dry beans cooked for chili or goulash, bread made, supplies for the dogs and chickens replenished, wood brought in to the garage.  Yesterday we waited, wondering if this storm too would fizzle though the news from southeast of us was showing freezing rain and sleet, we are far enough west in Virginia that we could have only gotten a couple of inches, not the double digit snow that was predicted.

Around 2 pm yesterday, as I was kneading the bread and looking out the kitchen window that faces south, I watched as the snow came over the ridge behind us, moving toward us and it has been snowing ever since.  We had gone out about noon and parked the SUV part of the way up the driveway in a parking pad away from the house.  After I thought the mail had come, I drove my CRV up to the barn and parked it on a gravel pad in front of the barn and walked the rest of the way up to the mailbox.  The contractor mailman drives a 2 wheel drive sedan, so he either had not come or decided our steep snow covered gravel road was not happening yesterday afternoon.

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That was only an hour or so into the storm.

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By the time I went out to secure the chicken coop for the night, we had about 5 inches.  By bedtime after watching the Olympics it was up to 7 inches.

This morning before letting the pups out to romp, I went out with a 12 inch ruler that sank into the snow.

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Same shot as Tuesday with the addition of the car and the snow.

After the snow pups had their chance, with the snow up to Shadow’s chest

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they came in snow coated and worn out and I ventured over to deal with the chickens.  I knew they would not come out of their coop when I opened the pop door, so today until the snow stops, they have food and water in the coop.  As their keeper/feeder/protector/egg collector, they seem to think this is all my fault.   The snow is mid calf on me, over my boots and I returned to the house with a cuff of packed snow inside.

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We awoke to it 10ºf warmer than last night, but it is still snowing and we are expecting several more inches.

Today we will play.  Tomorrow our 36th Anniversary was to be celebrated in town at a nice restaurant, but we may have to cancel our reservation and postpone it unless the plows get up our mountain.  So far we still have power, so the conveniences of life are still in place.

We wanted a good snow this year and we have gotten it.  Once this is gone, I’m ready for spring.

Winter morn

A light dusting of snow settled between the blades of brown grass.
Gray sky, cold and bleak.
A flock of Robins, harbingers of spring, feeding along side of snow juncos, a winter resident.
The chickens showing little enthusiasm for their morning release from the night’s captivity.
A head cold, compliments of grandson last week.
If we aren’t going to get real snow, I wish winter would go on and exit.

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Back on the Farm

The return to the farm has brought with it the return to Virginia winter weather. Today’s high occurred early this morning with a chilly day and frozen night in the forecast. With dusk last night came rain all night long, creek flooding rain and snow possible as the day wears on. The ridge behind us shrouded in low thick clouds.

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Last week when I was babysitting in Northern Virginia and available regardless of the weather, it was sunny and warmed to the 40s and 50s, today they are on the rain/snow line of this storm and likely having to deal with another weather closure or delay. That problem, I remember well, having three children and both of us having professional level jobs that were difficult to miss.

It is good being home, watching the antics of the dogs. Ranger the English Mastiff romping with the German Shepherd indoors and out, but having much less stamina and collapsing on his back outdoors, or into this position next to Jim when he is spent.

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The only place he is allowed to do that in beside hubby in his oversize worn out recliner.

When I got home yesterday afternoon, I went out to check on the chickens and do a bit of coop maintenance, I don’t ask that of Jim when he is chicken sitting for me and finally caught a Buff Orpington sitting on an empty nest, so now I know which eggs to set aside for brooding when one of the hens gets broody this spring.

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I don’t know which breed is laying the pinkish tan eggs far left, the Olive egger is obvious, the nearly white tan eggs are the Buff Orpington (at least one of them though I think the pinkish ones might be the other one. The darker brown even colored ones are the Red Stars, nice sized consistent eggs with good yolk structure and flavor, and then there is the girl with the faulty sprayer that lays a brown egg, sometimes speckled always with a color distortion on the wide end and the girl that lays extra elongated pointy eggs. I may never know though, because as soon as there are 14 Buff Orpingtons including Cogburn or his descendant, the rest will go to freezer camp and my eggs will be boring, but my flock self sustaining.

 

 

Farm Lessons

We purchased our farm/homestead in January 2005 and spent the next several months getting the perk test for septic, drilling a nearly 800 foot well, laying out the floor plan and getting the custom log kit put together for us, hiring a contractor and finally breaking ground in November 2005.  In June 2006, I left my husband and recently graduated high school youngest son in an apartment on the coast and I took a second apartment in the university town halfway between where we were building and my new job.  This started a 3 year commute every few weeks back and forth across the state for hubby and me, sometimes meeting somewhere in between to see each other.

During the construction, before our eldest son (RT) who had moved to the area with his family to oversee the construction, could take over for the interior work and the weather would permit the stonework, he repaired our old pole barn.  It is a simple structure of a central closed room with a sided lean-to off each side.  One side stored the old farm equipment that we bought with the house and is low enough that we have to be careful walking in it to not hit our heads.  The other side is tall enough to park the tractor inside and to store the plow and auger and has a hay rack, so was probably used at some point to shelter cattle kept on the land or for the miniature horses that were grazing here when we purchased.  The barn was in disrepair, the doors were rotting and falling off, the roof had been the target for many shots from a neighbor’s yard and the metal roof, already in poor shape was riddled with tiny holes.  Son rebuilt the doors after repairing and shoring up the frame, roof cemented and painted the metal roof in a color close to the red of the house metal roof, making it a functional place to store the utility trailer, our kayaks, and tractor equipment.  It may soon become hay storage for the horses and cattle that should be added within the next year.

Also during this time, RT and his wife constructed a tremendous garden,6 huge compost bins, and orchard area.  This area was much larger than I can manage and has been reduced to about a 60 X 60′ vegetable garden and berry beds, the chicken coop and run, and an orchard with apple, Asian pear, and peach trees and two less compost bins.  This is an area that I can manage.  The vegetable garden has been a work in progress as I started building 4′ square beds for parts of it and 4′ wide strips of beds for other parts of it.  Two years ago, I added a row of blueberry bushes, a row of thornless raspberry bushes, moved a grape vine that a neighbor had given us, but was just growing randomly and not well on the edge of the garden and added another of a different variety and gave them the northern most row of the garden with trellis support.  I have tried different varieties of vegetables to see what grows best in this soil and climate, have discovered that radishes and turnips get riddled with little white worms and aren’t worth my effort, I just buy them in season at the Farmers’ Market.  The remainder of the garden provides us with beans, peas, greens, tomatoes, peppers, cabbages, potatoes, onions, garlic, cucumbers and sometimes when Mother Nature allows, pumpkins and squash.  Some years there is enough to get us through the winter.  Other years there is enough to share with RT’s family as well, and a few years, it has only been part of our needs and we have had to supplement from the Farmers’ Market or even the grocer.

Almost a year ago, I wanted to add chickens to the homestead, mostly for eggs and the compost they generate, and RT asked that I also raise some meat birds, that he would do the deed and butcher them.  I didn’t know that they couldn’t be raised together, that the layers would brutalize the slow heavy meat birds and that the meat birds couldn’t get up in the coop.  I also learned to be careful when buying birds.  My first chicks were day old chicks from two different Tractor Supply stores and there were lots of young cockrells in the first chicks.  Then I bought two from an animal swap that were both supposed to be pullets, one is my big rooster Cogburn.  I bought half a dozen from a local gal that was on Backyard chicken forum, she swore she didn’t know their genders and all 6 were cockrells (I’m sure she laughed all the way to the bank with my $30).  I got two more pullets, Buff Orpingtons like Cogburn and decided that they would be the heritage breed that I raise.  RT came in late spring and we put all the cockrells except Cogburn, the meat birds that survived and a couple of pullets in freezer camp.  It was not a pleasant task, but I participated to the extent I could tolerate.  The rest of the flock continued to mature as I looked forward to the eggs they would produce later in the summer.  In August, I raised a second brood of day old meat chicks, this time in a chicken tractor that RT had build for me during the summer, keeping the laying flock and the meaties apart and in October, they were dispatched to freezer camp with a higher lever of my participation this time, though I still find it very unpleasant.

Around August, the layers, one by one began producing eggs and everything I read said that I needed to increase their calcium intake so I purchased oyster shell to offer to the hens that wanted it, then had an Ah Ha moment when I read to feed their egg shells back to them.  Some sources say to just remove the membrane from inside the shell, wash, dry and crush.  Others say the shells must be baked.  I have learned that there is no right way to do anything, that you do what works best for you.  My hens get their shells back with the membrane removed and heated in the microwave for 2 minutes, then crushed.   I learned not to totally clean out their coop weekly, but put a thick layer of straw inside and turn it daily, adding more when needed.  This starts a composting inside the coop which provides winter warmth and surprisingly it doesn’t smell, then thoroughly clean and scrub the coop out come spring and good weather.  I have been told to keep the chickens in a secure run with chicken wire buried to keep digging predators out, but that idea doesn’t work here as it is difficult to even hammer in a post without hitting a rock in this county and alternately to let them free range.  I prefer the free range method, but there are too many dogs, coyotes, hawks, etc in the area to totally do that, so they are in a pen, not too secure, inside the orchard that has electric fence around it, but they usually get a few hours of free range time each day when there isn’t snow on the ground.  And I have learned that I want a pure flock of heritage birds that can self sustain, no more brooders in the garage for baby chicks.

This has been a learning experience, lots of instruction, usually contradicting someone else’s instructions.  So far, we are producing most of the vegetables we need, we have lost only 2 very young chicks and no adult birds that we didn’t harvest (hope I didn’t just invite a pack of predators), have purchased and learned to use a tractor with brush hog, bucket, and auger (still haven’t gotten the hang of the plow), have planted an orchard, a berry and grape supply, landscaped with plenty of perennials for summer cut flowers and love the mountain farm life.

Next up we add horses and cattle and hope that goes as well.

Life is good on our mountain farm.

Success

Yesterday it snowed off and on all day.  The forecast had been for light snow showers to begin in the late afternoon and end shortly after dark.  It started just as I was coming in from the chicken chores, having finally lured them out of their coop with warm mash and fresh straw over the snow.  This allowed for some much needed coop “cleaning.”  It snowed hard for a couple of hours, depositing a new inch or so on the snow remaining from a few days before and then we had snow showers through out the day.  Nothing was accumulating on the roads so we didn’t worry about leaving the mountain.  Just at sunset, the sun peeked out of the broken clouds while it was showering and I stood on the back deck in the 28°f temperature to see if we would have a snowbow.

As it appeared to be clearing, we decided to travel about 20 miles to the Mall to see American Hustle, feeling safe that the roads would be okay on the way home.  The movie was pretty good, hubby liked it a lot and when it was over we exited the multiplex theater to find a mini blizzard going on.  The roads were covered with about 2-3 inches of new snow and it was coming down so fast it was hard to see the road.  This is the mountains and most folks up here have either all wheel drive or 4 wheel drive if they are permanent residents, but it is also the area of the state’s largest university and it seems that most of the students have cars and many of them are not appropriate for snow driving in the mountains.  Even town is not level with rises and dips and as we drove through on our way back to the main highway out to our home, we watched as people, mostly college students slid around corners, fishtailed trying to climb the rises and slid as they foolishly applied brakes going down hill then applied them more firmly to thwart their slide, which caused more sliding.

Once on the main road for the last 12 miles, the road goes up two mountains and through two passes and this is where it got really dicey.  There were cars that couldn’t make it up and had slid into the guardrail, some sideways, some spun around in the wrong direction, some perpendicular to the road.  There were people with 4 wheel or all wheel drive that thought they were invulnerable and were passing each other and driving by the spinouts too quickly and following each other too closely.  It was a terrifying ride, even as the passenger in hubby’s Xterra with the 4 wheel drive on.  When we got to the last 2 miles, going up the mountain on which we live, there were only 2 sets of tracks.  We made it home safely, but very tense.

To unwind, I chose to work on the lace cowl that I posted about a few days ago.  I never thought that I would say that knitting lace would help me unwind, but I had added stitch markers after each lace repeat after “tinking” two half rows and it was going along smoothly.  I finished all but the last three rows, staying up way past my bedtime.

Today is supposed to be warmer, the sun is out and the wind is calming.  After chicken chores which involved more new straw to coax them out to the snow and preparing breakfast for me, feeding the dogs and starting some laundry, I have knit the last 3 rows and bound off.  I am stoked, this is the first time ever that I have successfully finished an entire lace project of any complexity and it is beautiful. It still needs to be blocked but I can’t wait to show it off.
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From this

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To this

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and finally to this. Now I feel confident and am thinking about trying to create a hat to go with it using the same lace pattern.

Reward

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This is the scene this morning. The ridge a mile away is hidden by the snowfall. The snow is not heavy, just steady and expected until sundown, so we may see our first seasonal snowfall. It is later than usual, but we are approaching the 8 weeks when we are most likely to get snow cover.  We are in the Allegheny mountains in southwest Virginia at an elevation of only about 2300 ft (700+ m) on the south flank of the ridge. The ridge north of us rises to about 4400 ft (1341 m) so that it shelters us from most heavy storms. The snow is welcome for the garden moisture it provides, the seasonal beauty and to indulge my inner child who will bundle up and walk or play in it after morning chores are done.

The dogs hit the deck this morning and delightedly took off, leaping; well the German Shepherd leaps, the English Mastiff lopes, and chasing each other around and rooting around like hogs with their noses in the snow. Often when it snows, one of them will come up with a mole or vole with which they play, tossing it around until they tire of the game.

The chickens were less delighted. I filled their water pan with tepid water and hung their feeder beneath the coop to keep it dry and opened the pop door for morning greetings. The first one to poke her head out stopped short as soon as her foot hit the snowy ramp, gave me an accusatory glare and ducked back inside.  All of them were milling around in the coop making agitated sounds, but no one came out. It isn’t very cold yet, only 32°f (0°c), the cold is expected again tonight dropping to low single digits and remaining well below freezing for the next week or so. I may have to make a concession and at least put their food inside the coop. We have snow predicted again in a few days.

The woods are looking like a wonderland and with the snow cover, you can see well into the woods and see the foraging deer and turkeys. I love the mountains and the snow. Life is good on our mountain farm.

Egg hunts

Do you remember the excitement of an Easter Egg hunt? Each morning brings that momentary thrill when I walk over to the chicken’s coop area, laden down with a bucket of water for their dish, another of feed pellets for their feeder and whatever leftovers they are getting as a treat, today it was sauteed cabbage and a few green peas with the last piece of cornbread crumbled into the dish.  Once the waterdish is filled, the feeder hung outside the coop for sunny days and under the coop on bad weather days, the treat dish placed somewhere in the run, just for variety, I open the pop door and greet each hen with a back scratch as they exit and a good morning. Cogburn only tolerates being touched when terrified like the day recently when the dogs charged and everyone scattered amid yells and barks.

After the feeding and greeting chores are done, the straw in the coop must be forked over and freshened with new straw on top about twice a week.

Then, I get the thrill of peeking into the nesting boxes. There are 6 boxes, but generally the hens only use one, adding their egg to the clutch that has been started. Sometimes a hen can’t await her turn and will use the next nest over, or lay her egg just outside the boxes, probably while the box was occupied. Some days, there is only one egg when I let them out, or none, but as the day progresses, several more will appear, always in the same nest. Last thing at night as they are being closed up, one last check is done and sometimes there is a late treasure.

This time of year, there are generally 4 to 6 laid during the day, one day last week there were 8 and yesterday after being on strike since October then molting in late November into December, the Olive egger left us a green egg (no ham on the menu today.)

The hen gems are all varied in hue and shape. One hen lays a nearly round egg, one hen’s eggs are sharply pointed. One hen lays eggs that are lightly speckled with darker brown confetti, one hen’s dyer is faulty and she leaves a darker brown spot on the wide end. One hen’s eggs are rough textured and others so smooth that they are difficult to remove from the deep reusable cartons they are stored in once the counter bowl gets too full to use in a couple of days. I have tried to figure out who is laying what so that this spring when one hen gets broody, I can tuck a collection of Buff Orpington eggs under her and raise babies the natural way and not have to buy chicks this year, but I just can’t be sure. Perhaps I will have to buy pullets this year, then next year when all I have are Buff Orpingtons and Easter eggers, I will know. Until then, the egg hunt continues to delight me each day.
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Life is good on our mountain farm.