Sunday, August 31, 2014

Building a Portable Garden

Building my garden this year was challenging to me for two reasons.

First, this is my first garden! Sure, I always helped my mom garden, but our gardens were never huge. We usually stuck with just some tomatoes and green peppers. This is the first garden that I have grown all myself, so I am still trying to figure out the best ways to do things.

Second, this whole year has been a huge transition for me, having just gotten married. My husband and I have been trying to find a house to buy, as we are renting now. Really anytime now we could move, so when spring rolled around, I was unsure of what to do. Should I plant a big garden, and risk having to leave it behind? Or not plant at all, and not have any juicy, garden fresh tomatoes?

 Neither seemed like a good option, so eventually I made a decision to compromise; I would make a portable garden! Then, if we moved in the middle of the season, I could take my garden with me. Basically, that meant planting most everything in containers.

Most things went in pots as large as I could find, and when I ran out of those I started using five gallon buckets, and when I ran out of those I started using feed sacks from our chicken feed. When I ran out of those I planted the rest in the ground.

Peppers went in buckets.

Sweet potatoes went in feed sacks.

And the dill.
This tomato plant randomly sprouted up in the same bucket as my peppers. This is probably because a rotten tomato got thrown into the compost bin at some point, and then the compost was used in the garden. I call these volunteer plants.
This cantaloupe plant was also a volunteer!

The spaghetti squash, cucumbers, and the tomatoes (not pictured) got planted in pots or buckets. As they got bigger and needed support, I put up a temporary fence next to them made of a section of welded wire fencing and t-posts, and tied them up with baling twine.

After I ran out of containers to plant in, I decided to go ahead and plant the rest of my garden in the ground, even though I might not be able to take it with me, at least I could bring some.

Pictured here are the corn, beans, carrots, and rhubarb.

In this pot I planted mint, but this came up instead. I don't know what happened, but it sure is a cute flower! I looked it up, and I believe it is called torenia.

Overall, the container method works well as long as you have large containers and water everyday, especially in hot weather. It is portable, so I could take my garden with me if I needed to, or just move it to a more sunny part of the yard.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Hatching Chicks with a Broody Hen, Part 3: Setting up a Broody Box

So your hen is broody for sure! Congrats, you're going to have chicks!

Now, there are two different ways that people usually care for a broody. Some people will leave her wherever she decides to make her nest. I have tried this, and it never worked for me. If she makes her nest outside the coop, this is not even a viable option, since she could be exposed to the elements and predators.  If she makes her nest in a nesting box like mine did, other hens will try to lay eggs there as well. You can try marking the eggs that your hen is incubating and removing the ones that the other hens lay, but pencil marks wear off easily and I don't really like the idea of putting marker ink on my eggs since they are porous. There is also the chance that the eggs that the other hens lay in the nesting box with the broody hen could start developing an embryo if you leave them there too long. Unfortunately, what could also happen is that when the other hens force the broody hen off her nest to lay their eggs, she may get confused and go sit on a different nest!

Really, your best option is to separate her from the others. A good way to do this is by making a cozy nest for her inside a dog kennel placed inside the coop. If you don't have a spare dog kennel or can't find one to buy, you can make something similar by framing out a cage with 2x4 boards and chicken wire, or welded wire fencing. If you do this, keep in mind that day old chicks are small enough to squeeze through both of those types of fencing, and you will need to add hardware cloth (a wire mesh with very small holes) to at least the bottom half of the cage. Be sure to add a door!

I call this cage for broody hens the broody box. Inside you will need to put a pile of straw, wood shavings, or your preferred bedding for her nest, a small feeder and waterer. You may or may not want to put some of the bedding inside a bottom of a cardboard box, so that the eggs do not roll out of the nest. Just be sure that if you do that, you make the edge very short, so that the newly hatched chicks can get back to mama if they should wander out of the nest.

New baby chicks, during the first few hours of life, are very uncoordinated, weak, and chill easily. They should remain under mama until they are fluffy, fully alert, cheeping, and walking around. Don't leave any corners in your box, where a clumsy chick could get stuck away from mama, if this happens he could chill and die.
Here is a box I set up for my Black Langshan hen:

Once you have your broody box set up, wait for night. This is very important. The reason why some people choose not to move their broody is because if you disturb her too much, you could cause her to leave the nest permanently. By waiting for night, you can move the broody hen at a time when she is sleepy, and less aware of what you are doing. Chances are, if she is a good broody, and you quietly move her during the night, causing as little disturbance as possible, she won't even realize that she was moved.

When you take her off her nest, be very careful that neither of you bump the eggs. If she is too alarmed when you take her off, she could smash the eggs. Put one hand under her body, letting her legs hang down between your fingers, and use the other hand to hold her wings down to her body. Then hug her snugly against your body. If you do this properly she should struggle very little, if at all, especially if she is accustomed to being held. Put the hen in the nest first, then tuck her eggs under her. If you put the eggs in the nest first, there is a greater chance of them being smashed. 

If all goes well, all you have to do now is keep her food and water filled up, and wait 21 days! Often, eggs hatched by a broody will hatch a day early, so I would mark 20 days from the time she started sitting on your calendar. Here are some cute chicks to keep you going until you have your own!

Happy hatching!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Hatching Chicks With a Broody Hen, Part 2: Is My Biddy Broody?

In order to hatch out chicks without an incubator you must first have a broody hen, unless you happen to be a female and have a strong enough maternal instinct to try hatching chicks in your bra!  So how can you tell if your hen is broody? While she may or may not start getting nauseous in the mornings and craving pickles with ice cream, she will most certainly let you know she wants to start a family!

Many hens will linger for a while in the nesting box if they feel like it for whatever reason. Broody hens, however, will never leave the nest, except to eat, drink, and release the most explosive, vile and fowl-er, I mean foul- smelling poo you have ever seen. Some will not get up at all!

When you try to gather eggs from a hen who is not broody, she may or may not give you a warning squawk, as if to say, "Hey, those are my eggs!" But, if your hen is broody, it will sound more like a violent shriek, hiss, or growl. Her intent is now not just a warning, but a threat. It means, "If you touch my babies, I'll rip your throat with my bare beak! GO AWAY!" If you are foolish enough to try to reach her eggs or touch her, your hand will be viciously attacked. She will puff up her feathers to make herself appear larger and more intimidating. When left alone, she will flatten herself in the box and stare off into space. Some have described it as a concentrated, zen-like expression.

It is a lot easier to get a broody hen if you have the right breed. Over the years, many breeds of egg layers have had the tendency to brood bred out of them. On a commercial egg farm, broodiness is a bad characteristic that is culled, because when a hen goes broody, she stops laying eggs as soon as she has a clutch. She will not resume laying until after her chicks are grown enough to reach independence from her. So, if you want a ton of eggs in as little time as possible, broodiness is a bad thing. Hens that went broody were culled, and the eggs from hens that didn't go broody were artificially incubated to produce a bird that almost never went broody.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule! Sometimes they will go broody no matter what their genetic makeup is, although if they are a breed that does not usually go broody and they do start setting (brooding), they may not be as good of a mother as a breed that usually goes broody. There are good broodies and bad broodies. A bad broody has little function in the flock. Because she is broody, she is not laying eggs, but because she is not a good mama, she may fail to hatch any chicks, or if she does manage to hatch them, she may not know what to do with the chicks once they hatch! Here is my White Leghorn who went broody once(she was not the best broody). 

 On a small farm, having two or three good broody hens is always a good thing. For a while, I did not own an incubator, but I wanted baby chicks very badly, so whenever I had a hen go broody, I would jump for joy!
I still have all five of these chicks hatched by one of my Turkens. They are all beautiful adults now!

Here are some breeds you should look for if you want a broody hen.
Breeds that will consistently brood: Old English Game, Silkie, Cochin.
Breeds that will probably brood: Australorp, Brahmas, Sussex, Shamo, Orpington, Naked Neck/Turken, Modern Game, Langshan, Aseel, Chantecler, Rhode Island Red, Dominique, Dorking.
Breeds that almost never brood: Leghorn, Ancona, Andalusian, Campine, Hamburg, Production Hybrids, Minorca.
This list is not all-inclusive but it will give you a place to start!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hatching Chicks with a Broody Hen: Part 1, The Pros and Cons

This summer, I've had lots of hens go broody and hatch their own chicks! This is really the easiest method of raising chicks, so if you want to do it mamas way, I'll give you a rundown of how it's done. This will be part one of a series of posts on how to raise chicks using a broody hen instead of an incubator.

First, lets make sure you know what you're getting yourself into.

Pros of hatching chicks with a broody hen:

1. Mama does all the work. She sits on the eggs for 21 days. She (sometimes) pushes bad eggs out of the nest.  She turns the eggs. She shows the chicks where the food and water is, finds them tasty treats if free ranging, and teaches them everything from dust bathing to roosting.

2.  You don't have to worry if the power goes off or if you got all the temp and humidity settings right on an incubator.

3. Chicks are usually healthier raised naturally. You don't usually have to worry about pasting up, spraddle foot, and the like.

4. Chicks raised by mama are also protected by her, so you can let them out in the pasture as early as you wish, which helps them learn all of the chicken behaviors that they need to know in life, like how to forage, dust bathe, and heed the rooster's warning calls of predators. She will protect them fiercely against other chickens and even predators, keep them close to her side, and warm them if the temperature outside is chilly.

Cons of hatching chicks with a broody hen:

1. You can't have chicks whenever you want. If a hen is broody, she's broody, if she's not, she's not. You can't make a hen hatch chicks.

2. You can't hatch as many at a time as you can in an incubator. A standard size hen can only keep warm about a dozen or so eggs, less if she's a bantam.

3. If you don't have a rooster, you may not have fertile eggs available when your hen decides to go broody.

4. Not all hens who go broody are good mothers. Some are horrific mothers. I have many examples of this. Some of my hens wouldn't leave the nest at all, which meant that they used the bathroom right there on top of their eggs. The eggs were then so dirty and bacteria filled that they never hatched. I even had a hen once who was great at incubating the eggs, but once they started hatching, she went homicidal! I've had hens accidentally step on chicks or sit on them too hard and squash them. I've had one who stopped sitting on her eggs only two weeks through the incubation period.

5. Sometimes, mama can accidentally push a good egg out of the nest, and if it is out there too long, it will cool and die.

More later on hatching chicks with a broody hen, so keep watching for the rest of the series!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I'm Back!

I am pleased to announce that, after a long hiatus, I am back to blogging!

I have one big, huge, important, loveable reason for my sudden and unexplained departure, and that is this guy.
Yes, he has a ring on his left hand. Yes, he is mine! (And so are the chicks, by the way, but I'll write about that later.)  My boyfriend became my fiance, who became my husband. That's why I've been so busy and have had no time to blog! Now I have lots to write about. Since my last post, I got engaged, planned a wedding, got married, went on a honeymoon, my family moved out of my house and my new husband moved in, and I have started to learn how to be a good wife. It's a lot of work. But definitely worth it. Oh, and also my chickens went broody and hatched chicks the entire summer! I have learned so much about chickens that I have had about a million or so blog posts stewing in my brain for the past few months, but I haven't had time to write them yet. Do you know how distracting it is to have a million blog posts stewing in your head all at once, just simmering for months? So, bring on the blogging!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My First Eggs!

On Jan. 3, one of my chickens laid their first egg! The silly bird laid it outside the coop on the ground, so I didn't find it until the next morning. It was a white egg, somewhat small, and it had frozen and cracked open due to the cold temperatures outside. That same day, I later found three more eggs, all of them in the nesting boxes, and not frozen.

I think the first eggs were laid by one of my White Leghorns, and one of my Turkens (or Naked Necks), since they were taking a lot of interest in the nesting boxes. A White Leghorn:
And a Turken:

  Here are my fresh eggs next to a store bought egg (on left) for size comparison:
As you can see, they are a bit smaller than the store bought egg (I always call store bought eggs tortured chicken eggs, because of the horrible conditions that most hens from commercial egg farms are kept in, but I'll save that soapbox for another time.) They are smaller because my chickens are still young and have not perfected their laying skills yet. They will get bigger as the hens lay more eggs. Since then, I have gathered over a dozen more fresh eggs from my hens.
Fresh eggs from my own hens are so much better than store bought eggs! They have seven times the Beta Carotene, twice the omega 3 fatty acids, three times as much Vitamin E, 1/3 less cholesterol, and 1/4 less saturated fat than store bought eggs. Also, they are so much more delicious! They have a hearty taste that is noticeably more rich in flavor than store bought. You can tell just by looking! The yolk of a store bought egg is typically yellow, whereas the yolk of a backyard egg is orange. The darker color indicates that it has more vitamins and nutrients, much like a darker vegetable indicates the same. 

Normally, most hens do not lay eggs in winter, or at least not very many. However, I did some things to encourage my girls to start laying even though it is winter. They were about laying age (approx. six months old), and I couldn't wait for eggs to start appearing! The first thing I did was to provide them with additional calcium. My birds are currently eating a feed designed for all stages of growth, and so does not provide adequate calcium for laying hens as too much calcium is detrimental to the birds who are not laying. I added free choice oyster shell, which should provide enough calcium for my layers to make good shells for their eggs.
Here you can see their ten gallon feeder which my boyfriend made out of two five gallon buckets, a garbage can lid, and various other items he found in my garage. In the left hand corner is the feeder for the oyster shell, and just above that is the container for kitchen scraps that I feed daily.

I added a light on a timer to stimulate a longer natural day. Chickens need a long period of light each day (as long as daylight would naturally occur in summertime) to produce eggs.  The timer turns the light on at four in the afternoon, when it starts getting dark, and stays on until nine in the evening. This essentially tricks the chickens body into thinking that it is summertime and time to lay even in the dead of winter.

My boyfriend also made them new nesting boxes, also out of five gallon buckets (There are a million and one uses for five gallon buckets!) and some lumber.

The day after he made these nesting boxes, a hen started laying, and some others have started now too.
I am hoping that in a few months when their eggs start to get bigger, I will have enough to sell. I am also hoping to hatch chicks in the spring, enough for myself and some to sell.

I currently only have brown egg layers and white egg layers. But there are other colors of eggs as well. There are chickens who lay blue, green, olive, chocolate brown, and even pink tinted eggs! I really want some blue, green, or olive eggs. I have one chicken who is an Easter Egger- a kind of chicken that lays blue, green, or olive eggs, but unfortunately he is my rooster. He is a beautiful rooster, but he won't give me any blue eggs.

However, if I breed him with my hens and hatch out enough chicks, I may get some chicks who will lay pretty colored eggs. That's what I am hoping to do this spring!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Chicks Have Belly Buttons, And Other Random Chick Facts

I just received 27 baby chicks in the mail! I ordered them online, at Murray McMurray hatchery. I ordered 25 of them, but received two extra, all healthy and chirpy. Ever since, I have been doing tons of research on what it takes to keep little baby chicks healthy and happy.  Here are some of my chicks:

 As you can see, I got quite an assortment of beautiful chicks. I ordered "Rainbow Layers" which is the hatchery's choice of laying birds that lay all different colors of eggs. I do not yet know what breeds they are, but I am trying to figure that out. When they are very small it can be hard to tell the breed, so I may just have to wait a few weeks to know for sure.

I do know for sure one breed that I have; they are called turkens. Contrary to the name, they are not turkeys at all, they are 100% chicken. They are very distinctive, so I can tell them apart immediately. They have no feathers on their neck!

One thing I found out about them is that chicks actually have belly buttons! You don't generally think about birds having an umbilical cord since they are not mammals, but they do have one to connect them with the  inside of the egg. I, at least, had never thought about this before.

Another fact about them is that while they have no teeth as adults, the newborn baby chicks have one tooth. Technically, it is not a real tooth, but it is a hard point on the tip of the beak that the chick uses to break out of its shell with while hatching. The egg tooth, as it is called,  soon falls off after hatching, but I noticed that a few of my chicks still had theirs when I got them, so I took pictures.

Can you see the egg tooth on both of these chicks?

Another thing I discovered while doing research was that like any other group of people, people who raise chickens seem to have their own dialect! I had to learn new words, like Alektorophobia (the fear of chickens), bantam (a miniature chicken), Crop (a sac at the base of a chicken's esophagus that stores food), and many more. The word "buff" means a golden brown, not a rooster who is exceptionally muscular. Here's a real "buff":

I call these chicks the "chipmunk" chicks, because that is what their color reminds me of!

Something I've seen from watching the chicks is that their motto seems to be, "Don't stop until you drop!" Their daily activities look like this: cheep, eat, drink, poo, cheep, chirp, flap, dash, flap, eat, eat, eat, drink, poo, cheep, drop. Then repeat. It is very funny; they can be running around having fun and then suddenly, kaplunk! Instant sleep.

Sleep, that is, until five seconds later another chick jumps on his head!