Whenever I run into one of the 5 people that actually read our blog, everyone always seems to comment that they love Mary-Hall’s recipes and DIY projects and my chicken posts. At a wedding a few weeks ago, one of Keith’s co-workers said, “please do another chicken post soon!” So to comply with that tidbit of free “market research,” I figured it was high time for another chicken post, since I haven’t done one since Sylvia died. And it’s perfect timing too since we’ve been talking about the Not Wedding Dinner Party Styled shoot all week…
All the vendors absolutely cracked up when they found about the chickens and the coop and then became sort of obsessed with them. We even incorporated the ladies into several of the shots…lured into doing pretty much anything with the help of a few dried worms. Since the ladies have already had their portraits painted, and won a photo contest, it seemed only logical that being included in a high-fashion, wedding-themed, professional-level photo shoot was the next progression in their path to fame and fortune. Our friend Hannah snapped some amazing photos that I thought I’d share with you here. So just scroll away and check out the captions.
The girls have also never met a stranger and love it when people stop by to see them which is a good thing because it seems to happen frequently. But when it comes to holding still for a picture, Beverly is the most patient with those not used to holding hens. Plus, she’s just so fluffy and yellow that it’s quite adorable. My favorite quote of all time is when a business contact of mine said, in the most serious tone ever, “Do you think Beverly Clucky KNOWS she’s the prettiest of all the chickens?” So here you go, just for fun, a few additional pictures of Beverly with the friends she’s made along the way. Oh, and one of Louisa, just for good measure.
I know we’ve had a lot of chicken posts recently, but I needed to add one more. For those of you who have been tracking with the Saga of Sylvia the Sick Chicken, I have sad news….Sylvia went to that big chicken coop in the sky last Wednesday. She’d rallied there for a little bit…and then just started getting, well, slower. She’d stop in the middle of the yard to nap. She stopped eating. She wasn’t really pooping (sorry, but she wasn’t). She stopped getting excited about seeing us. And she barely weighed anything. So Wednesday morning I decided to spend some quality time with her. I wrapped her up in a towel and put her on my lap while I got some work done on my computer. She napped most of the day. She didn’t seem in pain, just content to sleep on my lap.
That afternoon I had to run to a meeting and about 10 minutes after I left Keith sent me a text message: “I think Sylvia just died.” it read. Then, about 15 seconds later, “Yep. She’s definitely dead. She just laid over on her side and went to sleep.” We were sad to see our girl go, but happy she went in peace. If you’re wanting to reminisce her short life (like I did) then you can check out this video from last August when she laid her first egg.
Yesterday was nice weather and Spring seems to have finally sprung, well sort of…so Keith and I decided that it would be a good time to do a “Spring cleaning” in the coop and de-winterize all the little cold weather tweaks that we’d made. You might remember that we added a heat lamp and a made a few other temporary changes. So Sunday we shoveled out the pine shavings from the coop floor, removed the heated waterer, heat lamp and indoor roost, rehung the outdoor roosts and gave everything a good cleaning. The girls seemed really happy with their tidy home and hopped around the backyard eating as many earthworms as they could find.
Although I’m super thankful that we brought Beverly Clucky home to replace our first chicken casualty, Gertude, (who had a brain tumor,) we’re not rushing into getting a new girl this time. I know it’s Spring and all the co-ops are starting to put out all those cute little chicks and it’s so tempting to bring home a new little critter. Please, before you do….read all about my experience adding a new girl to the flock. It’s not all fun and games and cute little feathered friends. It’s a slow and painstaking process, one that for us worked out well despite my doing everything wrong, but one that I’m not sure I’m up for repeating anytime soon. So for now, we’re going to hang on to our three amigas and be thankful that everyone else is healthy and happy for the time being.
After having had a long week of hand-feeding Sylvia the chicken and freezing weather, we had a brief moment of beautiful sunshine and the girls were more than ready to run around the yard eating whatever they could find. Booger the cat and I sat outside with them and as I fed them treats, they all started to congregate around me on the steps to our out-building. Keith, ever-ready to grab a great photo op, snapped a photo and posted it on facebook where a friend mentioned we should enter it in the “Flaunt Your Flock” photo contest that Tractor Supply Co. was running. We did. And we voted and asked people to vote, but with so many entries, we didn’t hold our breath.
Fast forward to this morning when I woke up to the sound of my phone ringing. Since it was a number I didn’t recognize, I screened it….and then squealed with delight when I listed to the voicemail from Matt, from TSC, who was calling to find out what prize I would like to choose as I’d been selected as the week 2 winner! What!? Awesome. Since our girls have been eating food like they were teenage boys, I chose the ten-pound bag of feed and container of dried meal-worm treats (the favorite delicacy to our feathered ladies) which they assured me would arrive in the mail in about a week. I’m sporting my brand-new “Sriracha” rooster tee all day in celebration.
Here’s the thing though. The weekly winners are based on the merit of the TSC judges. The overall grandprize is based on popularity….so your vote counts….and there’s still time to vote for my photo. Just CLICK ON THIS LINK (or on the photo below) and it will take you straight to the contest so you can vote for me. And, you can vote for me once every 24-hour period if you feel super motivated/dedicated.
So excited that my sweet girls got some recognition…….and some yummy food coming their way! THANK YOU Tractor Supply Co, for such a great competition and for supporting hobby farmers like myself. We appreciate all you do!
This is a post that I was hoping I would get to write with a happy ending…and even though we’re not totally out of the woods yet, I’m going to go ahead and publish this in faith that all is, in fact, well.
One of our hens, Sylvia, hasn’t laid an egg in a really long time, but we weren’t too concerned because it’s pretty normal for hens to stop or slow down their egg production in cold weather, and lets face it….even with our fancy heat lamp and all that, it’s been a brutal winter. But then last week, we noticed something was a little bit off with our beloved black australorp. She was wandering off by herself alot and instead of dashing across the yard chasing bugs and pecking around for treats she seemed to prefer napping under a bush. She wasn’t really eating or drinking much and one night, the other hens flat out refused to sleep on the perch with her. When I went to pick her up, I noticed she was gasping for breath and her poor little body was really really hot. No thermometer needed to know our girl was running a really high fever. So we made the executive decision to bring her in for the night and start her on some antibiotics.
The first night was the toughest. She was clearly dehydrated, but was too weak to drink on her own, so I fed her with a syringe (no needle, of course) and she gobbled down dose after dose of medicated water and some “sav-a-chick” electrolyte water (who knew they made gatorade for chickens!?) and then I put her in a pet crate with a cozy nest of hay for the night. The next few days were a routine of mixing up antibiotic twice a day, coaxing her to nibble on dried mealworms out of my hands and researching poultry maladies on Google. After several missed diagnoses, we decided that she most likely was suffering from egg yolk peritonitis, an uncomfortable sounding genetic disorder that typically results in a dead chicken. Our girl however continued to rally through the weekend (our house sitter Ellen was a champ on Sunday and Monday when we were both gone for work….mixing up bowls of medicine and patiently monitoring how much Sylvia drank).
Why the quarantine you ask? A couple of reasons. First, because she was showing some fairly serious respiratory distress we were afraid it was some sort of airborne pathogen and the last thing we wanted was to loose our entire precious flock. Second, the temperatures in Nashville were reaching the teens and single digits at night and we figured that just couldn’t be good for a sick chicken. Third, as her condition was deteriorating quickly, we realized we were going to need to put her on antibiotics if we wanted to try to save her. But, since you can’t eat eggs from a chicken who has been on antibiotics, we couldn’t let any of our other girls drink the medicated water, and clearly there is no explaining to a chicken which water bowl is theirs, so the only way was to make sure the other girls didn’t have access to her “special” water.
Once we were confident that it wasn’t something that was contagious (we didn’t want our other girls getting sick!), we started letting Sylvia out to play during the day so she wouldn’t loose her place in the flock and so she wouldn’t get lonely. Louisa, Jane and Beverly Clucky were all thrilled to see their sister again and instead of bullying her like I was afraid they might (we had a tough time integrating Beverly Clucky when we got her, so this was a justified concern), they took her “under their wing” and followed her around, curled up next to her when she needed a nap break, etc.
I think tonight will be Sylvia’s last night in the bathroom as she seems to be almost completely healthy again. I’m not sure if she’ll ever lay eggs again (and of course, even if she does we’ll discard them for the next few weeks since she’s been on antibiotics so they wouldn’t be safe to eat), but we’re thrilled that she’s on the mend. She’s also mellowed out a bit which is fun…she used to be a little bit difficult and now she seems to genuinely like being held. Her whole body relaxes and she snuggles up to me. So sweet. I guess she knows I saved her little chicken life. I’ll leave you with some tips on what to do if you have a sick chicken, and one more sweet photo from this week. Fingers crossed our girl will be completely recovered in no time!
Sick Chicken Tips
- Watch for any birds that might keep to themselves, seem lethargic, stop laying, or exhibit other behavioral or physical changes.
- Isolate the sick bird to prevent the rest of the flock from falling ill. Even “non-contagious” things like injuries should be isolated as healthy chickens tend to pick on injured birds, resulting in the death or further injury of the ill hen.
- Research online….there are lots of excellent poultry owner forums online or in chicken raising handbooks that can help you diagnose possible diseases based on symptoms.
- If you feel like your bird needs medicine, consider a poultry antibiotic power mixed in the sick chickens water. Remember not to eat their eggs for several weeks afterwards and that healthy birds should not have access to the medicated water.
- If you need to get serious medical attention, consider finding a vet in your area that specializes in poultry, or at least birds. Remember though that vet bills can be expensive and won’t always end well (one of our original flock, Gertrude, saw a vet for what ended up being a brain tumor and then had to be put to sleep. It was a sad and expensive day.)
- A great alternative to a vet would be your local farm co-op or TSC. They often carry basic medicines and their staff are typically pretty knowledgeable. And they won’t think it’s weird that you love your chickens as much as you do. And speaking of loving your chickens….
Don’t worry. Despite the title, there’s no “fowl play” going on. Nobody is blaming my girls for crimes they didn’t commit. But they DID get framed recently. Confused? Let me explain.
Back in June, Mary-Hall got all crafty and painted four lovely mini-portraits….one of each of our original four hens. She said the paintings were intended to bring a little lively decor to the inside of our henhouse, but I just couldn’t stand the thought of these lovely little works of art getting potentially ruined over time due to the elements….or….well….the chickens themselves. (They are sweet little ladies but not exactly careful critters all the time.) Although I’d looked many times, I couldn’t decide how to frame the paintings, couldn’t find ready-made frames that fit, and couldn’t quite justify spending money on custom framing. So, for months the canvases have been sitting on my desk where I look at them daily and smile at the thought of the sort of friendship that makes one paint pictures of the other one’s pet chickens.
But then a few weeks ago, two things happened: one, I had a day of super clean-out mood and cleaned everything off my desk leaving the paintings displaced, and two, on a late-night JoAnn’s run for something work-related, I located the perfect framing solution! Behold….a shadow box! Intended to frame anything that isn’t flat (such as seashells, or paper embelishments), the shadowbox frame is about an inch and a half deep, and comes in several standard sizes, one of which, 8in x 8in, was just perfect to from my 4, 4in x 4in canvases all in the same frame! Although the frame was originally $19.99, I had a 50% off coupon and paid just over $10 including tax…and when I looked the product up to link it here for you guys, it looks like it’s currently only $8.00 online, so get it while you can!
The next decision was where to display this tribute to our feathered friends. Certainly the paintings are adorable and sentimental, but the fact remains that they are of, well, chickens and therefore slightly comical. I needed a place where everyone would be able to enjoy their charm, but I wouldn’t be the girl with the chicken paintings hanging in the living room…..then it hit me. There was an empty shelf in the downstairs bathroom just begging for something happy, so I brought the chickens in and bingo! Perfection.
What’s that book on the shelf next to the chicken pictures you ask? Yes! It’s a copy of “I Could Pee On This: And Other Poems By Cats.” If you don’t have it. You need it. Trust me. It’s so hilarious you might pee your pants though, so best to read it while you’re already planning on heading to the bathroom…..Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
Update: Keith thinks that Mary-Halls paintings formatted the way I have framed them is very Andy Warhol a la Marilyn Monroe. What do you guys think?
It’s getting wayyyy too cold here in Nashville. Even though we did a fairly thorough “winterize” on the chicken coop back in October (read all about that here), when we noticed that next week the forecast is calling for numbers in the single digits, we decided we might need to take one more precaution to keep our feathered friends warm: a heat lamp.
Keith did lots on online research and then we finally found the perfect lamp at our local Lowe’s store. We kept finding the correct bulb (a 250 watt red heat bulb), but most clamp lights are only approved for up to 150 watt lights, so it took a bit of calling around and searching. (I couldn’t find the exact one online at Lowe’s for ya, but here’s a similar one available at WalMart.) The lamp and bulb were each about $10…and we were happy to spend $20 to keep our girls warm and healthy. We hooked it up this afternoon and when I checked on them tonight, the inside of the coop was warmer than it would have been without the lamp, but not hot, which is important. The girls have a pretty luxurious down coat so they don’t need it toasty….just….well, warmer than 5 degrees.
If a heat lamp is something you’re considering for your coop, make sure you get a red-tinted bulb. White tinted bulbs will keep your ladies awake at night. In fact, some folks use a lamp in their coop to trick their girls into thinking its still daylight when the days get shorter. It’s supposed to keep them laying eggs longer, (lots of chickens slow down their egg-laying frequency during the darker colder months) although some people say it’s healthy to let their little bodies follow this natural process of slowing down and taking a break from all that egg production.
Our girls seem to be faring well so far this winter. Louisa, our “Littlest Woman,” is still laying an egg a day like clockwork and Jane is still pretty steady as well. Beverly and Sylvia have both slacked off a bit and we’re getting an average of 2 to 3 eggs a day total instead of 4, but that’s still plenty for us to eat and still give some away to friends. They girls had their first snow day a few weeks ago and absolutely hated it. Louisa, Jane and Sylvia all stumbled around in confusion for a few minutes before heading back into the coop. Beverly however, ventured out, got startled by the cold, powdery stuff underfoot, and instead of turning around and heading back to the coop, got all flustered and flapped over to a dry spot on the deck under some patio furniture. Then she laid down and refused to make the journey back to the coop so I had to pick her up and carry her, which she seemed to appreciate.
I’ll keep you posted on how the heat lamp goes. If it’s something you choose to do, make sure you approach it carefully as it could be a fire hazard if it’s too close to hay, shavings, or other materials, and you want to make sure it’s not where your chickens will burn themselves. Another good cold-weather chicken care tip is to rub coconut oil on their combs and feet to help prevent frostbite.
Sunday I had a rare weekend-day-off-at-home and since the weather in Nashville has started to turn a tad bit chilly, Keith and I decided to tackle a project that we’ve known was coming: “winterize” the chicken coop. While our chickens are all breeds that are fairly heat and cold hardy alike, we still want to make sure that our girls stay warm, healthy and cozy during the cold months ahead. I’ve read a few articles on “winterizing” in various chicken magazines and books, and Keith found this excellent four-part series on The Garden Coop blog to peruse.
We knew that there were a few things we would need to do to get our girls the type of winter retreat they would need. First of all, we needed to re-install the plexiglass windows in the henhouse wall. We’d removed the “panes” of these windows during the summer when the temperatures were rising and we were afraid we’d end up with fried chicken if we didn’t provide some ventilation options. That was a pretty simple process as all I had to do was get out our cordless drill and screw the plexiglass back into place.
I also did a “deep clean” and scooped out all the chicken poop on the ground (I typically do this about every 4 days anyway) and thoroughly scrubbed out both the water-er and the feeder. The tomato plant that had been in the little garden space on the right hand side of the coop had about run it’s course, so I took the time to pull that out as well. I’m not quite sure what I’ll do with that garden area now….the girls seems to like to dig up anything I plant so I’m thinking some sort of more permanent solution is in store….although the tomato plant sure thrived, so who knows.
The big ticket item that we wanted to take care of was adding some sort of outer wrapping to the coop to help provide insulation and also keep things nice and dry. We’ve had some minor issues with rainwater splashing into the back half of the run and we didn’t want our feathered friends getting wet and cold…or worse…moldy and cold. There are many ways to do this…I’ve seen everything from landscaping fabric and canvas to plexiglass suggested. One guy even ordered custom-made tarps that he’ll be able to use every year. We strongly considered the wrap-the-coop-in-plastic approach suggested here, but then after a trip to the Home Depot, decided to go for clear plastic sheets like we’d used on the roof. It seemed like a durable way to effectively keep the water out and block chilly breezes, and all the while the girls can still enjoy the view. Speaking of the view…we also added a mirror in the henhouse. We’ve heard that chickens love checking themselves out so we’ll see if our girls enjoy it.
We also put a thick layer of pine shavings down as bedding to provide insulation from the cold ground and a cozy place to curl up and will be adding a quilt over part of the hen house (there is a vented ceiling) for additional warmth. They key is to keep it warm while still providing adequate ventilation.
We may have to make other tweaks along the way as the weather continues to get colder, for example, the waterer that we have is metal and we don’t want the girls to find a giant ice cube one morning in their water bucket. But we’ll take those in stride and learn along the way.
The other big change we made was turning what used to be my herb/jalapeno planter box into an official dirt bath for the girls. For a few weeks now they’ve been climbing in and making themselves at home. First they killed one jalapeno plant. Then the other one. Then my Rosemary bit the dust. So today I yanked out the remaining Thyme and moved the whole kit-and-caboodle into the coop so they can frolic about in it all they want. I’ll leave you with some photos of the girls and their new digs to enjoy. Aren’t they so large and lovely now? It’s crazy to think that they were just little chicks not too long ago.
If you’ve been keeping up with Eggwatch 2013 then you’ve either bitten all your fingernails off, or totally forgotten that we were still waiting on our last lady to start laying. (We’ve done a little of both fingernail biting and forgetting.) But yesterday, late afternoon, little Beverly Clucky waddled up the ramp in the coop and laid her first egg. It was cute. And tiny. And we couldn’t be more proud of our girl.
They grow up so fast. It’s hard for this Mama to believe. So now we’re up to getting 4 eggs a day. That will slow a little bit as the days get shorter and colder, but for now we’re enjoying the plenty…and giving a few away as well. I’ll leave you with some photos from some fun we had playing in the back yard today, and a funny video of Louisa the chow-hound demanding her snacks that Mary-Hall actually shot when she was in town last week. Enjoy!
I love it whenever I run into someone I know and the conversation turns to my chickens. Since there are a few questions that always seem to get asked, I thought I’d just do a whole blog post and answer them since I’m sure that there are others of you out there that are curious as well. Folks always start with:
“So are they high-maintenance?” – The answer is no, not really. At least no more work than your average pet. If you’re down with walking a dog, scooping cat litter box, cleaning out a hamster cage or buying food for your fish, you can probably handle chickens. We have an automatic food dispenser that we fill about once a week, and an automatic waterer that we fill every 3 days or so. In addition, we collect eggs once a day, and I take a shovel and remove any large piles of poop from under their roost branch every 3 days or so. (The girls apparently go potty like crazy while the snooze at night.) All that takes about 15 minutes. The most time-consuming part is the set up process….choosing/building a coop, and the first few days of making sure everyone is ok. Then it’s pretty easy going unless you have a sick chicken, etc. But again, that’s with any pet.
“So are you doing this just for the eggs?” – I like to call the chickens our “pets with benefits.” Because the start up costs even for a small flock of 2-6 birds are more than a goldfish or hamster, or even a cat or dog sometimes (a good coop will cost you anywhere from $500-$1000 to buy or build), you can’t go into it thinking that you’ll save money on eggs. Plus, our family usually eats about a dozen and a half eggs a week, more if I’m baking or cooking something, and a chicken only lays an average of 4-6 eggs a week, so between our three laying girls, there are still days that we have to supplement with a dozen or so from the farmer’s market or grocery. Plus, “pullet eggs” which is what they lay up to the first year, are about the size of the “medium” or “large” eggs at the Kroger. So if you’re used to purchasing the “Extra large” or “jumbo” eggs, you’ll need about two backyard-hen eggs for every one egg. All that being said, our eggs are for certain way more delicious. We look at the chickens as a hobby, and the fresh eggs as a yummy return on our investment.
Bottom line: if you’re looking to save money, this isn’t the way to go. But if you’re looking for super yummy eggs, a fun hobby, and a great way to teach kids responsibility, then chicken farming might be for you!
And then after that, there’s always one person that lingers a little and pulls me aside, casually, of course, and says something to the gist of…..
“So how do you get all these eggs if you don’t have a rooster?” Um, err….well…..so……I’ll try to do this to where things won’t get awkward for either of us. Once a hen reaches maturity (read “goes through puberty”), her body produces (on average) one egg a day. (If you missed 8th grade biology, this happens to female humans too….just….thank goodness…..not once a day.) If there’s a rooster around….and, um, “the daddy chicken loves the mommy chicken VERY MUCH,” then the egg that the hen lays might have a baby chicken in it. There are methods of finding out called “candling” that show if there is an embryo (chick) inside the egg or not. However, if you don’t have a rooster around, that doesn’t mean that the hen doesn’t lay the egg. Her body still makes it, and she still lays it….there’s just no way for the egg to have a baby chicken in it. An unfertilized egg is what we enjoy making into breakfast and there’s no chance that you just prevented a chicken from being born.
Whew. I’m sweating. And for any of you trying to figure out how to have “the talk” with your kids, do not send them my way….unless you wanted to read this blog together…but that just seems weird.
Anyway. For any of you contemplating chickens, I hope this helped just a little. And I say go for it!