Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ladies need a new pair of shoes.

Well actually a new pair of nesting boxes. Or more like a dozen new nesting boxes.

It's kind of sad to see them cramming two chickens into a nest and the others waiting in line on the perches. See chickens can be a little silly.

They say that chickens don't have preferences to nesting boxes. They say you need 1 nesting box per 4 birds. We have 40 chickens that are fully mature and laying eggs. So we should need 10 boxes. Well we have 10 boxes but the girls seem to prefer 5 boxes in particular. But not all the ladies, just about 20 of them.

It's ridiculous. They could very easily choose the box to the right or to the left. They are the same material, the same size. But no, they like the top left two and the bottom right two. So they lay on the ground in front of the nest boxes waiting to get inside.

The time came for us to open up their options. And we have 25 more birds who will need boxes available to them in a couple of months. The brooder pen is really much bigger than it needs to be and we will only be using it to brood chicks every 2 to 3 years. So we're going to use it for more nest space in the mean time.

We didn't want to spend money on materials, the chicken enterprise has cost a bit more than we anticipated. My husband is a bit of a hoarder. And not particularly good at organizing. So all sorts of things are tucked away in various cubbyholes throughout our property.

This happens to be a good thing when you're building housing for animals. They aren't picky as long as it works. So we rounded up 12 five gallon buckets and created a wall of lovely nest boxes. They fit perfect four across three rows high.

Now if they can just use them.

Friday, January 22, 2010

I love chickens

I remember when I was a little kid, maybe 4 or 5, my family would go to stay at a small farm on Lopez Island.

Every morning I would wake up as soon as it was light out. Excited to get up and go see the animals and walk around in the grass. My brothers would go rabbit hunting and my mother and I would go collect eggs and talk to the pigs.

We don't have our own farm yet. I think it's just a matter of time and saving. But we've made due with the space we do have and started raising chickens about 7 years ago.

I still love the sound of chickens making a racket in the morning. And I love the sound of Elvis crowing.

My favorite thing is still going out and collecting eggs. I let the ladies out into the run. They run the length of it, getting up speed and flapping to propel themselves along. They're always looking to see if I've put out scraps for them and aren't shy about it.

Then I go check on the babies and collect the eggs. I know that chickens won't make me a ton of money. And we'll be lucky if we break even.

But there are few things more satisfying that walking in with a pocket full of eggs.

Friday, January 15, 2010

How to get eggs

Winter, as I have said before, is a time of relaxation and hunkering down. There are few projects to work on other than cleaning the inside of the house and organizing the summertime build up.

This winter though, we have been spending some extra time perfecting our chicken and egg production.

Over the past few years we have ramped up the number of birds, increased our covered coop area and in general taken a more serious attitude towards raising chickens.

We currently have about 70 chickens and we will likely taper back to about 50 in the next year or so.

As the number of our flock has increased we have come to understand the subtleties of poultry in larger production.

We find that when your flock is less than say 15 birds you can get away with a lot less in terms of attention and materials. Once you increase your numbers you really have to significantly increase coop space, roost area, nest space and most importantly feeding space.

We had 4 round feeders available for the 50 or so adult layers and 2 for the chicks. The chicks have been doing just fine with this arrangement, but the layers were not.

Our egg production was low, like really low, and we finely figured out why. The chickens were producing about 2-3 eggs a day. We have lighting on them to counter the low light of winter. We used layer pellets and plenty of water. Snacks, oyster shell, ect. And so why were we getting so few eggs?

Well the funny thing about our chickens is, they apparently don't like pellets and they don't like to take turns.

We assumed the chickens would eat and then go outside leaving the feeders for the next batch of chickens to eat from. But that wasn't happening. The chickens would eat what they could get to, go out into the run and stay out there hungry and looking for food. For some reason it didn't occur to them to go back into the run to eat.

So handy husband David built a tube feeder out of 4" pvc pipe. It runs the length of the coop and allows for 30 or so birds to eat at one time.

The next day we got 9 eggs.

One month later we're now getting over 2 dozen. Pretty cool!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Winter snuggle down

Winter time is a slow season for us. The garden is pretty low maintenance. Outside activities are less due to the rain and darkness. We pretty much snuggle down and wait until spring.

We still do a little gardening. After trying various types of pvc housing we gave up and set up simple hoop frames. I have some pretty great ideas for greenhouse frames, but like most things, it will have to wait for spring.

We got our last batch of chicks for the year. From now on we will replace the entire flock every two years. This will keep our egg production higher and our freezer full of meat.

While we have a nice brooder pen set up in the coop, we still keep the babies in our shop until they are a week old and no longer need 24 hour light.

And as far as I can tell making adjustments and additions to a chicken coop are just part of the program. We keep adding, tinkering and fixing all the issues that come from poor initial planning. I think we've fairly well got it there now.

Here the roof has been covered by two large tarps. The metal roof underneath kept the brunt of the rain out, but little drips make for wet litter. As we use a deep litter method, keeping everything dry means keeping the ladies warm.

We added metal roofing along the lower edge of the coop to cozy it up more and keep the rain out. I think it also makes it look kind of high tech.

This is the view of the roost area. The tarps obscure the cool windows, but keep the poop pit underneath drier, which keeps the ammonia down.

I always like adding a new bale of straw. It gives the girls something to dig in and makes the whole coop smell nice. With the tarps and metal walls, the straw should stay warm and fresh for most of the winter.

One problem with home made nest boxes, the milk crates on the right, is they generally don't have a perching deterrent. The chickens love to sleep on the top and poop all night in the nesting material. Which is lame. So I used a couple of feed bags stapled to the wall. They are slippery and make noise when walked on. Chickens hate that!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A good start

Today started my favorite way.

I've been eating dinner very early so when night falls I've had no reason to stay up late.

I used to be in the habit of going to bed very early and getting up very early. Some people wake up naturally, regardless of their bedtime. Not me, the day is very much determined by my previous nights activities.

I'm not a night person anyways, so why fight it. Besides, early mornings hold such wonderful things.

This morning I woke up around 6:30, which is not really that early, but the kids were still sleeping so that constitutes as early for me.

I had already been up at least 6 times already. Once when Koz came in to sleep in our room. Two or three times to go pee, sorry for the tmi, and once when Meza came in. Then a few more times when the kids fidgeted to make sure they stayed asleep.

Anyways, by the time the 6 rolled around I wasn't falling back to sleep and for the first time I wasn't too tired to stay in bed.

I got up, did the morning animal things, feed dog, let chickens out ect.. Then had the lovely morning coffee and reading on the computer time, that rarely comes quietly. Usually it's a flurry of kids and cartoons and cooking.

What a great way to start the day.


I have a buff orpington name Louisa. She is big and beige and clucks like a story book chicken. She's kind of the epitome of what you think a mother hen is, sweet and fluffy, a little clumsy, but all around a very nice chicken.

She also lays huge brown eggs. Bigger than any jumbo I've ever seen. Bigger than some of the duck eggs I've had before. But they are pretty thin shelled, so they often break. Also she's older, like 6 or 7, so her eggs just get bigger and thinner.

She can't climb into a nest box that is not on the ground because she's so big. And as it's only a matter of time before she ruptures a large egg and ends up dying from peritonitis we plan on culling her soon.

But this isn't the betrayal.

Having chickens is a love-hate relationship. They are well behaved and fairly innocuous pets, but then they go and do things to betray that basic trust in their simplicity as creatures.

Chickens are terrible fliers. And they are not the smartest, so a wire see-through fence, really just 6 to 12 inches high is supposed to be enough to enclose them.

Oh but not my birds. We have a 5 foot wire fence. But some of them hop it to get to the garden on the other side. So I've raised it to over seven feet. Yeah the smaller birds, that will soon be getting a wing trim, still fly over it. What's up with that?

And we have over 30 birds that are mature enough to lay eggs. I get like 4-6 eggs a day.
Total bull.

Then on top of it all I thought I was past all this egg eating business.
We spent a ridiculous $200 on a roll away egg nest. They won't use it without bedding, which makes it non-egg rolling. They actually wouldn't use it until we replaced the plastic perches, which were far to slippery for my chickens, with wood perches.
Again, total bull.

These chickens fly up onto and over wire fencing which is like a millimeter of slippery metal, but they can't handle three inch wide plastic? But I digress.

So when Louisa is laying, she does a 3 -4 egg run once a week, I always make sure to hang around. Her eggs are thin and one little peck and they break, which then brings us back to egg eating.
Stupid birds.

Two days ago I once again missed my opportunity and the vultures got to it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Time management

I would like to think that being a stay at home mom would give me ample time to get everything done. But somehow the extra time just fills up with more things to do.

I'm not a "go-getter". I don't have 57 classes, workouts, PTA meetings, or anything else that is filling up my time. Just normal everyday life. Which I'm feeling like is enough.

I'm a pretty chill person. I like to spend vacations by just staying home with my husband. Or if we go somewhere I really just want to go for scenic walks and read books.

Anyways so I still am constantly struggling to get the laundry done, clean the bathroom, cleanup the toys from the kids dumping them out as I put them away, cooking meals and then cleaning up again. It seems like I am always behind, and as soon as everything is clean, we start all over again with the next meal.

So I've been trying to work on a few time saving methods. So far the biggest and most useful is meal times.

I cook pretty much 99% of our foods from scratch. Breads, crackers, cereals, soups, ect. I throw down some tasty meals and they take their tole in the kitchen. Lately I've been too tired to cleanup after dinner and having an upset stomach when I lay down in bed.

I hate the way we start the day, when the kitchen is wrecked with dried on food and dishes everywhere. The house is a mess and it feels like I am cleaning only to have a clean space to get messy again.

I used to never eat dinner. But I like the family time together, I like providing a nice meal to my husband and children. David works in the medical field so he works 4 days a week for longer hours. Dinners have been difficult to arrange because he comes home so late and by that time the kids are no longer hungry.

So we started having dinner around 2pm. This has worked wonderfully for so far. Breakfast is usually oatmeal. The kids love it so I make a big pot of it and they eat it all week. Then they have a noon snack of bread or tortilla. Something that I've made that doesn't take much actual cooking.

I usually skip the snack and wait for dinner. I basically start making dinner while the kids are eating breakfast. Once dinner is over it's only 2:30 so I spend the next hour cleaning the dishes, the house and setting a load of laundry through. By the time 3:30 rolls around I've finished my household chores and even brushed and flossed my teeth!

Having completed all the housework early really has made a difference in my energy level. I even have time for afternoon coffee now. If the kids get hungry before bed I make them a quick smoothie, which only dirties the blender and two glasses. Weekends are great because we still eat together, and at night when David gets home I heat him up a plate and can chat with him while he eats.

It's not rocket science, but it's nice to make little changes that help so much.