Showing posts with label Chickens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chickens. Show all posts

Nov 13, 2017

8 Rooster Myths: Busted!

8 Rooster Myths
Poor roosters. They take a lot of flak - even for things they don't do. Are you guilty of believing any of these rooster-related myths?


Myth #1: Roosters always mean. 

Many roosters are friendly to humans and hens, and some are downright sweet. On our homestead, our rooster, Joseph (shown in the photos for this post), is a gentleman with his ladies and would never dream of pecking or hurting any of the humans on our property. He's a little hard to catch, but once we do catch him, he submits to us completely, and never tries to fight us. In his demeanor, Joseph is not unique.

How do you choose a rooster that's friendly? Selecting a docile breed is a good idea. But chickens, like humans, are individuals, and some are just more pleasant than others.

Myth #2: When you have a rooster, your hens will lay more and bigger eggs. 

Having a rooster in your flock won't change your hens' laying or eggs in any way...except that the eggs will be fertilized.

Myth #3: If you have a rooster, all your eggs will have blood spots in them. 

Blood spots can occur in any chicken egg, including those that aren't fertilized. Blood spots (also called "meat spots") occur when a blood vessel on the yolk surface or the wall of the oviduct ruptures. They never indicate fertilization, and eggs with blood spots are perfectly safe to eat. (Incidentally, those of us with backyard flocks are far more likely to bump into eggs with blood spots because commercial eggs are checked for blood spots, and those eggs that have them are discarded or put to a use other than grocery store egg cartons.

Fertilized eggs, however, do have "bullets" - a blastoderm, or the first stage of embryonic development. Most people don't even notice this bullet, because of it's subtle nature. (Click on over to The Chicken Chick to see a photo and a more detailed explanation.) In order for the blastoderm to develop into an embryo, the egg must be heated for a specific length of time, so there's no fear of finding a partially formed chick in your eggs...unless you let your hens sit on them.





Myth #4: Roosters crow only at dawn. 

Nope. Roosters crow whenever they feel like it, which is usually often. This is why it's a great idea to have the chicken run far enough away from your house that crowing is a pleasant sound in the background.

Myth #5: Only get a rooster if you want chicks (or fertile eggs). 

Even if you don't want fertile eggs or chicks, an excellent reason to add a rooster to your flock is that he will do everything in his power to protect your hens. Roosters are ever on alert, watching for any danger to the flock. If danger does appear, roosters will give their life to protect the hens.

Myth #6: Only roosters get spurs. 

Some people think they can look at pullets (teenage hens) and determine whether they are male or female by seeing whether they have bumps on their feet that will grow into spurs. But all young chickens have these bumps, including the girls. In most hens, those bumps don't grow into spurs...but it's not uncommon for hens to develop spurs as their egg-laying slows down. In addition, some breeds of hens (like Leghorns, Polish, Ancona, and Minorca) are more likely to grow spurs. Sumatras may even develop multiple spurs on each foot!

Myth #7: Roosters kill chicks. 

I heard this myth a lot after the recent loss of our chick. But the truth is, all chickens have the potential to kill chicks, and roosters are no more likely to do it than hens. Roosters do not try to kill chicks because they want to mate with the mother hen. In fact, most roosters are protective of the flock's chicks - sometimes even "mothering" the chicks the way a good hen does.

Myth #8: Roosters can't live together. 

Most people believe each flock can only have one rooster, or the roosters will fight until only one lives. However, more than one rooster really can live happily in a flock, though the males will scuffle with each other to work out their pecking order (just like hens do). Eventually, the roosters will sort things out - sometimes allowing mating privileges to only one male. Only breeds raised for cockfighting will actually fight to the death.

That said, it's smart to keep your rooster to hen ratio in mind. This can vary from breed to breed, but generally you'll want  rooster for every 8 - 12 hens.

Sep 15, 2017

The Little Chicken Who Couldn't

This post may contain affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 

Our Internet line was down for five days, so I'm playing a lot of catch up! (Not only do I work exclusively online, but my children were doing online school, too. Oy.) And while I was disconnected from the world, a lot of things happened at the homestead - including the hatching of our hens' eggs.

X marks the incubating eggs.
Mama hen had been sitting on 10 eggs for 21 days. When she first started sitting, I carefully marked each egg with a penciled X, so I'd know exactly which eggs were being incubated. Then I left Mama to it.

I knew the general advice is to separate the mama hen from the rest of the flock, but I had no way to do this, and I wanted to see what happened if I did things the old fashioned way - letting Mama do all the work.

Well, Mama was an excellent broody hen. She sat diligently every day, only getting up rarely to drink, relieve herself, and eat a wee bit of food. She growled at us when we checked on her (yes, hens can growl!), though she never pecked when I peeked under her. (I'm telling you, Australorps are the sweetest chickens ever!)

One day when I went to collect the other hens' eggs, I laughed because I found two eggs immediately in front of Mama's nest. I assumed (ahem) the other hens wanted to lay in her nest - because hens are like that; you can give them each a nesting box, but they'll all lay in the same one. Then, I thought, they couldn't hold their eggs any longer and out they popped in front of Mama's nest.

Mama, sitting diligently.
Well, a few days later when I went to cook with those eggs, I got a surprise. I was making a huge batch of pancakes to freeze for my children's breakfasts, and when I cracked one egg, the contents were bloody. Upon closer inspection, there was an embryo in that egg. Gross. That huge batch of pancake batter had to go in the trash, but the kids were fascinated to see a real embryo up close and personal.

I knew then that the egg had originally been under Mama, and somehow got booted from the nest. And over the course of the next several days, I found a few other partially incubated eggs with embryos in them. (Needless to say, I started cracking eggs in a separate bowl before adding them to whatever I was cooking.) Embryos only develop in fertilized eggs if those eggs have been incubated (i.e. warmed up by a sitting hen or an electric incubator). So either Mama booted those eggs accidentally, or other hens snuck into her nest when she got up for a quick break and they booted them, or Mama rejected the eggs, thinking they were bad.

None of those embryo-filled eggs had pencil marks on them, by the way. Note to self: Use a pen next time.





In the end, though she had six eggs under her at the end of 21 days, only one egg hatched. In other words, only one egg had been under her for a full 21 days.

Some people asked why I removed all the unhatched eggs after that time. Why not just leave them under Mama and let them hatch when they were ready? I had two good reasons not to do that. The first is that most hens will abandon their chick before they abandon the eggs in their nest - which means the chick has pretty much zero chance of survival. In fact, this scenario played out on our homestead.


I heard peeping on a Monday afternoon. By Tuesday afternoon, I could still hear peeping, but couldn't see any chicks. I didn't want to disturb Mama too much, so I didn't peek under her. I assumed (see how my assumptions lead to bad things?) she had chicks still hatching.

That night, however, when my husband locked up the chickens in the hen house, he looked inside with a flashlight. There, in a spot underneath the slightly raised nesting box, was the chick, peeping for Mama to help him. Somehow, he or she had fallen out of the nest. But Mama would not abandon her eggs. (Hubby says broody hens are a lot like Daleks from Doctor Who, but instead of having a one-track mind that says "Exterminate!", they have a one track mind that says "Incubate!") Fortunately, this happened during a heat wave, so the chick didn't die of cold, and my husband tucked the chick back under Mama, who seemed grateful.

Mama and her chick.
The second reason I needed to dispose of the additional eggs is that in 21 days, Mama had hardly eaten or had anything to drink. By the time chicks hatch, the hen is much thinner and really requires a break from sitting in order to be healthy.

So, the other eggs were gone and Mama was focused on her single, cute little fluff butt. The chick seemed bright and alert and curious, and Mama had her work cut out for her.

By the third day, she took the chick out of the nesting box and let it wander around the hen house. She showed it the water and the chick feed and taught it to eat, and she remained highly protective, even fiercely pecking my husband once. (Normal for the average hen, but really aggressive for this one.)
Mama love!
Then she must have taken the chick outside to teach it to scratch. That evening, my husband found the chick dead in the chicken run, its eyes pecked out.

We'll never know exactly what happened. Maybe the chick took a turn for the worse, it died suddenly, and the rest of the flock did what chickens do to dead things. Maybe the chick showed signs of illness, which chickens greet with cannibalistic fervor. Maybe the chick fell of the ramp to the hen house and was injured or died. Or maybe Mama simply didn't do a good job protecting the chick from the rest of the flock, who, not knowing what it was, assumed it was food.

Sigh.

It's never easy when animals die on the homestead, but at least I know we gave the chick every chance and that nature took its natural course.

My husband says he wants to use an electric incubator next time. Personally, I'd like to give Mama another chance, but this time put her (and her chicks) in a smaller run of her own, safe from the rest of the flock. We'll see.


Jul 5, 2017

Why Did the Rooster Cross the Road? Because Our Hens Were on the Other Side!

Late Sunday afternoon, my hubby spotted a beautiful rooster wandering around the outside of our chicken run, trying to find a way in. We've been wanting to add a rooster to the homestead, but every time we see one advertised, someone else has already snatched it up. So light bulbs went on above our heads. My husband called our neighbor, knowing it must be his bird. "Your rooster is over here romancing our hens. Do you mind if we keep him for a few days?" Our neighbor readily agreed.

So we opened the gate to our chicken run - there was little danger of our hens wandering off; they are so content in that run, they show little interest in leaving it. And within minutes, the rooster had found his way inside.

First, he crowed. Repeatedly. "I proclaim these ladies are mine!" I imagine him saying. Then he spread his wings wide as if to impress our girls with his splendor. Soon, he started scratching around, found some food, and called to the girls. "Ladies! I found something tasty! Come and get it!"

They eyed him suspiciously and didn't take him up on his offer.

Finally, he began following them around, cooing bewitchingly. At least, I guess he was bewitching, because within 30 minutes, he was making whoopie with one of our hens. He then wasted no time getting friendly with all of them.

We are thankful he's a gentleman about it all. He never once pecked, scratched, or got violent with the hens. And when dusk came and I locked the hen house...he was nestled away in there like he'd never had any other home.

His second day here, I walked by the run to see how things were going...and discovered the gate was unlatched. That morning, my daughter hadn't closed it properly. All but our two broody hens were missing. (Broody hens are in a hormonal state that prepares them to hatch eggs.Among other things, they sit on the nest and do not leave it. It doesn't matter that our eggs were not fertilized. ) I was a little panicky, since the rooster was not ours to lose.







My first thought was that Mr. Rooster had lead our hens to his old property, wanting to integrate his new lady friends with his old ones. But before we could call the neighbor, my son spotted the partial flock in the woods, busily scratching away on the forest floor, finding bugs. The rooster hadn't been trying to get back home. He was merely looking out for his new hens, finding them a good foraging location.


To complicate things, our 90 lb. puppy, Ed, got loose. He's good around "his" animals, but I was worried he'd go after the rooster, thinking it didn't belong on our property. So I spent 15 minutes trying to catch him, wrestle with him, and lock him up before I could proceed with the chicken rescue mission.

By the time this was accomplished, Mr. Rooster had lead the hens to a prime foraging spot under some trees on a steep embankment. And, naturally, he did his best to protect them from me. Still, one by one I grabbed squawking hens, handed them to the children, and had them put the girls back in the chicken run. 

I was not looking forward to picking up the rooster. Roosters have spurs...need I say more? (I didn't realize at the time that Mr. Rooster is young enough he doesn't have spurs yet.) But I walked back to the woods to do my best and...he had disappeared. Completely vanished. I hoped he was headed back to "his" ladies. I was right! I don't know how he moved so fast, but he was already pacing outside the run, with the hens ruffled and upset he wasn't inside with them. (Amazing how quickly those hens adopted him!) I opened the gate and chased him until he ran into the run to flee me. Whew!

Later that day, amazed by how the rooster seemed to complete our flock - how the hens already adored him and obeyed his gentle commands - and entranced by his lovely crowing that just made the homestead more homesteady - my hubby asked the neighbor if we could buy his rooster.

"Tell you what," our neighbor said. "Give me half the chicks from your first two clutches, and he's all yours."*

Happy dance!


Of course, hatching chicks the natural way is a little bit iffy. There's a reason chickens mate constantly; not all clutches of eggs hatch, and all newborn chicks are incredibly fragile.

But, best case scenario, sometime within the next 3 weeks, our hens will lay some fertilized eggs, and one of our hens will be patient enough to sit on them for 21 days, then mother the resulting chicks.

Hens often get fed up before 21 days of sitting have passed. But we have one particularly broody hen who seems very patient. Twice now, she's plucked her chest feathers and sat on unfertilized eggs. She's felt hot and gives that gentle clucking sound only broody hens make. When we remove eggs from under her, she scolds us - and even, once, pecked. (Which is a huge deal for Australorps. They are not much into pecking, especially at their humans.) In fact, when Mr. Rooster originally crossed the road, we had her separated from the flock, trying to get her to come out of the broodiness she'd had for several days. Now she's in with the rest of the flock and we hope her broody dreams come true!

I'm ridiculously happy to have this rooster. He is so nice - which is a huge bonus. Many roosters are just plain mean. He is gorgeous. (I think he might be an Americauna.) The hens love him. And now my hubby has an excuse to get around to expanding the hen house. (Wink.)

Only one questions remains: What should we name him?


* In case you're wondering, Mr. Rooster shows zero interest in crossing the road again. For whatever reason, he has chosen our hens as his.


Jun 26, 2017

Our Favorite Chicken Breed: Australorps

Find out why Australorps - a heritage breed originally from Australia - are our favorite homestead chicken breed. Hint: Think lots of eggs and sweet personalities...plus more!







May 1, 2017

8 Common Chicken Keeping Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 

Recently, someone my husband and I know made a huge newbie chicken raising mistake: He added pullets (teen age hens) to his existing flock of adult hens. The next day, he discovered every single one of the pullets dead - killed by his grown hens. It's a terrible story - but just one of hundreds I've heard or witnessed that involved a perfectly preventable chicken keeping mistake. Here are the mistakes I see most often - and how you can prevent them in your flock.

Mistake #1: Not reading up. Almost every chicken raising mistake can be avoided if you just do a little reading. You'll save yourself tons of time, money, and aggravation - not to mention suffering on the part of your chickens - if you read up on caring for them before you bring them home. Internet sources are useful (see my Chickens 101 posts, for example), but I recommend reading at least one book on chicken care before you buy chickens. Better yet, read a few! If money is tight, look to the local library. Or buy used books for cheap off Amazon. (Spending a little money on books will save you money in the long run, friends.)

Mistake #2: Not having everything ready for the chickens before you buy them. It's tempting to pick up chicks and think, "I'll worry about their coop (or their feeders, or whatever) later." But the truth is, those chicks have immediate and important needs right now - and before you know it, they'll be needing a coop and run, too. Prepare for the chickens before you bring them home, and you'll ensure the animals stay healthy and happy.
Have all supplies ready before you buy chicks.

Mistake #3: Trying to skimp on supplies. Frugality and homesteading go hand in hand; however, there are some things you really can't skimp on. For example, all chicks require a heating lamp and chick waterers and feeders. Trying to use, say, a bowl as a waterer will result in disaster. (Chicks drown in water bowls.)

Mistake #4: Not knowing how to introduce new birds. You cannot just throw chickens into a new flock and expect anything less than blood. New birds should, first of all, be kept in quarantine for 4 weeks, to ensure they are not contagious. Ignoring this rule may kill your entire flock. Then, new birds should be kept in a caged area immediately next to the old birds; this allows the animals to get to know each other without letting them kill each other. Don't co-mingle the birds until they've had at least a week to get to know each other through the fencing. And while you're at it, don't add a single hen to any flock. She will be mercilessly attacked, possibly killed, and at the very least, ostracized.  P.S. Chicks should be kept separate from the flock until they are almost grown. Put them in an attached but separate run when they are pullets. For more advice on adding new chickens to a flock, click here.

New chickens should be separated by a fence. Courtesy



Mistake #5: Allowing chickens to free range. At least without understanding the consequences. Free range chickens scratch at everything. They will destroy your lawn and gardens, and poop everywhere. If you're fine with that, then by all means let your birds free range. Otherwise, let go of the idea of true free ranging, and consider a chicken tractor, a rotating run, or a permanent run.

Mistake #6: Not feeding your birds. Some people think they can let their chickens free range and not give them poultry feed. But even if you have excellent forage in your yard, all chickens should be given feed, too. They will lay more consistently, have stronger egg shells, and will generally be healthier hens.
Free range chickens are a handful. Courtesy

Mistake #7: Not keeping chickens safe. All chickens require a predator proof coop they get locked into every night. When outside the coop, it's a good idea to protect chickens from predators, too, especially hawks and other big birds. This means covering the chicken run or having the run where there is plenty of tree cover.

Mistake #8: Getting too many chickens. Don't overcrowd your birds. This will make them fight, and will make them more prone to disease. At bare minimum, chickens require 3 square feet of indoor space (including 1 foot of roosting space) in the coop, and 10 square feet of outdoor space. But more space is better!





Mar 15, 2017

Why I Refrigerate Our Chickens' Eggs

Maybe you've seen them - the homesteading posts explaining why you don't need to refrigerate chicken eggs. They are everywhere, it seems. And yes, those posts are right. But I still refrigerate our hens' eggs. Here's why.

Why Eggs Don't Need Refrigerating

As I mentioned in my post on why I don't wash our chickens' eggs, the FDA requires commercial eggs be washed before they are sold; this destroys the natural bloom on eggs, which normally would protect the edible part from bacterial contamination. Theoretically, refrigeration helps keeps commercial eggs from making us sick - but refrigeration itself can be problematic. In fact, the European Union forbids egg refrigeration because if a consumer buys refrigerated eggs, then carries them home, more than likely those eggs will develop condensation - which attracts and breeds bacteria.

But...if you don't wash your eggs until just before you're ready to cook them, the protective bloom on those eggs stays in place, So, the argument goes, there's no need to refrigerate eggs. Especially eggs from backyard flocks, where the risk of salmonella is low. ("In fact, the likelihood of getting salmonellosis is greater with other pets than with poultry," claims the website of the University extension system.)

So yep, that's right; you can leave eggs on the counter, and they are perfectly safe to eat. The European Union recommends grocery stores keep eggs between the temperatures of 66.2 degrees F to 73.4 degrees F. - easily done at home, except on the hottest days.

But Why Did Our Ancestors Preserve Eggs?

So if eggs don't require refrigeration, why did our ancestors preserve eggs in lime or waterglass (liquid sodium silicate)? For that matter, in days gone by, why was it common practice to keep eggs in a cool cellar?

The answer, my friends, is the same reason I refrigerate my family's eggs today: Because we can't eat as many eggs as your hens produced each day, and we know even the best hens don't lay well during the winter. In other words: We have more eggs than we know what to do with during the sunny seasons, but aren't getting many (or any) eggs during the winter.

As it turns out, the whole reason the United States began the tradition of refrigerating eggs is that they are not naturally a year round commodity. Today, commercial farms force hens to lay in the winter by putting them in well lit (and crowded) barns. But before that was standard practice, farmers didn't have eggs to sell in winter. So the extra eggs laid during sunny months were stored in the refrigerator to be sold during the winter months.

Yes, fresh eggs last a long time when refrigerated. I personally have stored them for six months in our fridge, and never found a bad egg.






So rather than buy store bought eggs during the winter, or rather than just doing without during the dark months, I dig into the fridge and have plenty of eggs to last us until our hens start laying again.

P.S.

No matter how you store your eggs - the fridge or on the counter top - it's always smart to check them for freshness before you use them. It's easy to do this with a float test; click here to learn how.

Mar 9, 2017

Why I Don't Wash Our Chickens' Eggs

One thing you'll quickly learn when you add chickens to your homestead is that backyard eggs don't look like store bought ones. Oh sure, they're that classic egg shape and come in all the same colors (and then some). But, unlike store bought eggs, backyard eggs aren't always clean.

This is especially evident during wet seasons, when the homestead tend to be muddy. But the mess on chicken eggs isn't always just mud. Often, there's poop involved, too.

This happens for several reasons. One is that chickens, like all birds, poop on the go - so sometimes they step in their poop, or the poop of one of their sisters. In addition, some hens will poop in the nesting box, or may have manure on her rear end that didn't fall off. (Hey, we're homesteaders, here; there's no use being squeamish on the topic!) Some of these things can be controlled at least somewhat by homesteaders; click here for my tips on getting cleaner eggs from your hens.

But then there's the inescapable fact that the physical passage used for egg laying is the very same one used for pooping. (My husband once had a friend who'd recently bought backyard hens. He loved them...that is, until my husband happened to mention the above fact. The friend was so grossed out by this, he gave away his hens...But he still eats store bought eggs!)

Now, obviously we don't want to get any of that poop in our food. And the natural inclination is to clean those dirty eggs as soon as we collect them...but that inclination is, in my opinion, WRONG.





Why Egg Washing is Bad

You see, eggs naturally have a protective coating, called "bloom," that prevents bacteria from entering the egg shell. This is God's creative way of keeping chicks healthy enough to hatch - and humans healthy enough they can continue to eat eggs. As soon as you wash eggs, that bloom is typically removed - and the part of the egg you eat is now totally exposed to lurking bacteria.

What About Store Bought Eggs?

Why do store bought eggs look so clean? It's certainly not because of the crowded, dirty environment commercial hens are raised in. Instead, it's because those eggs are washed before going to market.

Yep, you read that right.

The FDA requires all commercially sold eggs to be washed in detergent. A fact, by the way, that would make them illegal for sale throughout the European Union. Because Europeans understand that washing away the egg's bloom makes it easier for bacteria to enter the egg and make humans sick.
THIS is what real backyard eggs look like.

Once upon a time, American farmers applied mineral oil to egg shells after washing, in order to create a sort of artificial bloom. This is rarely done today.

To add insult to injury, commercial American eggs are always refrigerated. But refrigeration can lead to condensation, which can lead to bacterial growth.

What About Farmer's Market Eggs?

Rules about the sale of eggs at farmer's markets and similar venues varies from state to state. But generally speaking, small market farmers are not expected to wash eggs the way large commercial farms are. Instead, they are usually allowed to simply sort through their eggs and not sell dirty ones, or use a brush or sandpaper to gently remove dirt from eggs, or lightly and quickly dampen the eggs to make dirt removal easier. Sometimes, however, small farm eggs are washed by hand, using FDA approved detergents.

How I Handle Our Eggs
I don't really take our egg cartons out to the hen house :)


Though we've had backyard hens for many years, and though I grew up with chickens, I am not an expert and the law says you should not take my advice as you would that of a scientist.

But I can tell you that on our homestead, dirty eggs go into egg cartons, and then straight into the fridge. When I'm ready to cook the eggs, I wash them immediately beforehand. (How to wash eggs: Under cool, running water. Pat dry immediately. Do not soak eggs.)

Some people are totally grossed out by the thought of putting poopy eggs in the fridge - or anywhere else that's near food. But in my experience, egg cartons protect any other food nearby, and the bloom protects the eggs so we don't get sick.

Now...shall we talk about why I refrigerate our eggs, even though it's not required? I think I'll leave that for another post. Until then...happy homesteading!


Aug 15, 2016

Meet the Chicks!

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

It's true; we still haven't really started unpacking. Our storage container is full to the top. I still
don't have most of my kitchen equipment. The kids don't have their toys. My gardening stuff is still in the container...somewhere. But we just couldn't delay getting chicks anymore.

It was a sad day for my hubby when he took down our suburban hen house and gave our chickens away to a co-worker. He loved those birds. The kids loved watching them. I loved those much-more-delicious-and-healthy backyard eggs. But buying a bunch of stuff we already had - in storage somewhere - so we could get chicks this fall wasn't something I wanted to do.



Still, last weekend, hubby and I went to the feed store. They didn't have our favorite breed (Australorps), but they had Barred Plymouth Rocks, which are a great laying bird, pretty, and they have a cool name. But when we started filling a shopping cart with the stuff we'd need to keep the chicks healthy - a plastic storage container to use as a cheap brooder, a heat lamp and bulbs for it, a waterer, a feeder... - I added up the cost, told myself it was wrong to buy new equipment when we had perfectly good stuff in storage, and we walked away from the store empty handed.

Then I paid the monthly bills and missed backyard fresh eggs some more, and this morning said, "Let's just do it."

Hubby, the kids, and I were all ridiculously excited as we packed into the car. We love this property, but it just wasn't a homestead without the chickens. In some ways, it just wasn't home without them, either.

And in the delightful way God works, on Saturday we walked into the feed store to discover the Barred Rocks were gone...and had been replaced by Australorps. That really got me grinning.

The fluff balls peeped all the way home, then piled on top of each other in their cardboard box because they were getting cold. (TIP: Always go straight home with the chicks. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Those babies need a nice, warm brooder ASAP.)  Once home, I lined the plastic tub with sheets of packing paper, filled the waterer and feeder, and hubby hooked up the heat lamp. The chicks huddled under the lamp for a bit, then wandered away and literally fell flat on their faces, sound asleep.

As I type this, they have slept off the excitement of their big move and are now eating and exploring their new digs.

We've never purchased chicks in the fall before. It seems like a less economical way to do things, since hens don't start laying until they are 5 or 6 months old, and since darker, wintery weather reduces egg laying, too. But it will be interesting to observe any differences.

Anyway, it's good to have them home.

Related Posts:

* Getting Ready for Chicks
* Buying and Caring for Chicks
* Setting Up the Henhouse and Run
* Predator Proof Your Henhouse and Run
* Chicken Care
* Why You May NOT Want Chickens

Dec 29, 2015

Most Popular Posts 2015 - and All Time!

I've been blogging at Proverbs 31 Woman for six years (and have written over 1,140 posts!), but honestly, I never have any clue which posts are going to be the most talked about or viewed. They say the Lord works in mysterious ways, and judging by what posts are most popular here, I have to agree! It's always a pretty eclectic list. I hope you enjoy it!

(P.S. Want to see more popular posts from Proverbs 31 Woman? Check out the Pinterest page "Most Popular Posts at Proverbs 31 Woman.")


Most Popular Posts from 2015:

1. Why I Don't Watch HGTV (And Maye You Shouldn't Either)

2. Free Art History Curriculum: Edgar Degas (this whole series is popular, but this is the most popular post from the series)

3. How to Kill E.Coli on Vegetables and Fruits

4. No Fail Healthy Pie Crust Recipe

5. Keeping the House Cool in Summer (With and Without AC)

6. 12 Old Fashioned Birthday Party Games for Kids

7. How to Make a SCOBY for Kombucha

8. "I Am..." A Self Worth Craft for Kids


Most Popular Posts of All Time:

1. How to Train Chickens (and Get Them to Do What You Want Them to Do)

2. Best Free Apron Patterns on the Net

3. 6 Ways to Teach Kids the Books of the Bible

4. Best Ideas for Upcycling Jeans

5. How to Clean a REALLY Dirty Stove

6. How to EASILY Clean Ceilings and Walls - Even in a Greasy Kitchen

7. Canning Pickled Green Beans (Dilly Beans)

8. Easy Refrigerator Pickled Beets

9. Freezing Apple Pie Filling


Dec 22, 2015

Best Homesteading Posts of 2015

People talk a lot about the negative side of the Internet - and certainly it has one. But there's one huge positive side to the web: The enormous amount of information available at the click of a mouse. I remember having to call a reference librarian to look up specialized information for me...and sometimes they turned up with little or nothing. I remember asking my parents questions and having to be satisfied with, "I don't know. Try looking it up in the encyclopedia." And then not being able to find the answer. But today, if my children or I have any question, we can easily and quickly look up the answer in about one minute!

Well, one area where the Internet is currently excelling is in proving information for homesteaders (and wanna be homesteaders). Never before have people been able to exchange ideas, failures, and successes in homesteading as they can today. And with that in mind, I want to share with you some of my favorite homesteading articles of 2015. Show these homesteaders some love! Click on the links and check out their excellent posts and blogs!

1.  How to Train a Rooster to Be Nice (Farm Girl Inspirations)

2. The 5 Stages to the 100% Self-Sustaining Flock (Abundant Permaculture)

3. How to Milk Once a Day (The Elliott Homestead)

4. Laundry on Our Off-Grid Homestead (Homestead Honey)

5. Tips for Starting a Food Forest (The Walden Effect)

6. 6 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Goats (Common Sense Homesteading)

7. How to Keep Goats Fenced In (Farm Fit Living)

8. Make an Outdoor Produce Washing Station (Homespun Seasonal Living)

9. 11 Tips for Using a Clothesline (104 Homestead)

10.  How to Create a Homestead on Wooded Land (Return to Simplicity)


Got a favorite homesteading article published in 2015? Please leave a link in the comments!

Oct 28, 2015

What I've Learned about Backyard Egg Production

We started raising hens to save money on eggs and know that our eggs were healthy. We didn't get hens so we could have pretty blue or green eggs. Or so we could have pets (although, as it turns out, we are fond of our hens). So getting great egg production out of our chickens is a high priority for me. Over the years, I've learned a thing or two about said egg production. Including:

1. It's important to choose breeds based on productivity. The hens you select to raise should lay, on average, an egg a day. I know it's tempting to choose some hens based on their looks, or the color of eggs they lay, but if productivity and saving money are important to you, these should be secondary concerns. (Check out this chicken breed chart to determine which breeds are the best layers.)

2. Hens aren't egg laying machines. They won't lay at all until they are mature enough. Then they will stop laying while molting, and their egg production naturally slows or stops during winter.
Courtesy Raketenpilot and Wikimedia Commons.
3. Adding winter light to the coop increases productivity. But it has it's down sides...namely, the risk of fire and the reduction of the hen's egg laying life. That's right; hens will only lay so many eggs during their lifetime. And while the average hen lays well through her second year of life, if you force her body to produce eggs in the winter, her productive years will be reduced.

4. Choosing breeds that lay better in the winter is a good idea. This is why I originally chose Australorps. But again, hens that naturally lay more in winter will slow down their laying before the two year mark. (For more on good winter layers, click here.)

So as a homesteader, you need to choose what's most important to you. Do you want more eggs in a shorter amount of time? Or do you want the hens to lay well for a little longer period of time, allowing them to follow their bodies' natural no-laying periods?


Jun 24, 2015

Tumbleweed Junction's Harvest Apron - a Review

If you're anything like me, you often find yourself outside meaning to pull just a few weeds or check the chickens' water level, only to end up harvesting veggies or fruits or eggs. And, again, if you're anything like me, you struggle with how to carry the food you've harvested so you can get it into the house. I usually ending up putting it in the bottom of my shirt - which I have to hold up to make a sort of hammock. But this just isn't practical - it's too easy to drop the food or have it stain your shirt. I've always thought that to solve this problem, I needed a harvesting apron.

So when Lorretta of Etsy's Tumbleweed Junction sent me one of  her harvest aprons to try, I was excited. No more stained, stretched out shirts! No more dropping tender fruit as I walked to the kitchen! And in fact, I've found the apron quite convenient. I just whip it on as I head out to the yard - just in case I find something I might want to harvest. It's light weight and comfortable, but sturdy enough for anything I might want to harvest in my yard.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of Tumbleweed Junction's aprons. They are made from high end quilting fabric (designed to last!), not the cheap sewing fabric sold in too many chain fabric stores. The sewing is also extremely well done. Honestly, better than I could do - and I've been sewing since Jr. High.

I find the apron works extremely well for light-weight food, including eggs, herbs, lighter weight veggies (like beans and peas), and smaller quantities of heavier veggies and fruits. Recently, a friend brought me some lemons from her out-of-state yard, so I checked to see how well the apron would handle something heftier. It did just fine with probably 1 - 1 1/2 lbs. of lemons, but when I tried to fill the apron up all the way, I found I needed to hold the top of it with one hand, or the lemons would spill out.

Another thing I love about this apron is that people of many sizes can use it. I am currently a size 16 (but heading toward smaller sizes!), and some aprons just don't fit me well. They don't have complete coverage, and/or their strings are too short to tie around me comfortably. But this apron has neither problem - and it also fits my 9 year old daughter! Usually adult-sized aprons are overwhelmingly huge on her. That's not true with this apron. (In fact, she loves the apron so much, she's been doing most of the egg collecting, just so she can wear it.)

Occasionally, Tumbleweed Junction offers this apron in a child's size. Lorretta tells me that if there's enough interest in the child-sized version, she'll offer it more often - and may even start selling mother-daughter matching aprons, too. I'm sure you could contact her via Etsy if you're interested.

Also, Lorretta just began offering a sewing pattern for this apron - both the adult and child's sizes all in one package - so you can make this harvest apron yourself, should you wish. It's a nicely printed pattern, too, with color illustrations and clear instructions.

Overall, I'm loving my Tumbleweed Junction harvest apron.It definitely makes life around this urban homestead a bit easier. To order your own harvest apron, click on over to Tumbleweed Junction's Etsy shop.





Jun 23, 2015

How to Prevent Animals from Eating Your Hens' Eggs

Have you ever discovered partially eaten eggs in your hens' nesting box? Or maybe you just aren't getting as many eggs as you think you should be getting, and believe some type of animal is eating your hens' eggs? Yep, I've been there and done that. Here's what I've learned.

Who is the Culprit?

The first thing to consider is whether or not your hens may be eating their eggs. If you find eggs that are completely empty on the inside, with scattered, broken shells in the nesting box or surrounding area, this might be the case. Read my post "When Hens Eat Their Eggs" for more information.

If you find eggs that have only one or two holes in them, and there is still some egg left in the shells, this is not likely caused by your hens. (Chickens eat eggs like I eat chocolate; I don't leave any chocolate behind, and chickens don't leave yolk or much whites behind, either.) However, this may very well be caused by wild birds, like jays.

If you think you have missing eggs, first consider whether your hens might just not be laying well. (See "8 Reasons Chickens Stop Laying Eggs" for details.) Or perhaps they are laying somewhere else in your yard. If this isn't the case, and assuming your hen house and run are well proofed against larger creatures like raccoons, the most likely culprits are snakes or rats. (Rats or mice will also sometimes chew on chicken tail feathers, so if you see indications of this, it's a strong sign rodents are the problem.)


There are several types of jays in the U.S. and all are voracious egg eaters. 

How to Keep Wild Birds Out of the Hen House

The first line of defense against wild birds is an outdoor, domestic house cat. It doesn't matter whether the cat is a "birder" and actually catches and kills birds. Wild birds will see the cat on your property and stay away. (If you have acreage, several cats may be in order.) Cats work so well that I never had any problem with birds eating our hens' eggs - or our berries - until after my little kitty died. Then suddenly, jays were everywhere, scolding me because I was removing eggs from the hen house.

Another easy way to deter wild birds is to tie ribbons around the hen house. They wave in the wind, scaring wild birds away.

However, the best protection against wild birds - and one every chicken owner should consider, since bird flu is being spread to chickens via wild birds - is a cover for the chicken run. This can be expensive, but assuming your run and hen house are attached, it will definitely keep wild birds from eating your hens' eggs. (It will also keep hawks from killing your chickens and will keep just about every type of wild life away from your hens.)

Cats scare birds away and may kill rodents, too.
How to Keep Rodents Out of the Hen House

Rats must adore hen eggs, because they risk their life whenever they enter the hen house; chickens love to eat rodents. But nevertheless, rats and mice sometimes do get into the hen house to eat chicken feed, drink the hens' water, and eat eggs.

If you're thinking rodents are the problem, first examine the hen house for holes that rodents could slip through. General wisdom is that a hole the size of a dime is big enough for a mouse to get through - but I've seen them slip through considerably smaller holes. Plug all holes or slits with steel wool. You may also need to look at your run fencing, and consider covering it with screening material. Collecting your eggs at least once a day also helps deter mice and rats.

If rodents are tunneling under the hen house, you should raise it off the ground. You could also bury hardware cloth around the edges of your coop and run - about 18 inches below the surface of the soil.

It's also important to keep the area around the hen house tidy. By keeping weeds and grass down, removing any scrap lumber or metal, getting rid of brush piles, and the like, you avoid providing homes for rodents. And by keeping feed in metal containers with snug lids (rats can eat through plastic), you won't be inviting rodents to your yard for other tasty snacks.

In addition, keep the hen house itself tidy, cleaning up any feed that ends up on the floor. Use pellets, instead of more messy crumbles, and use waterers with nipples, so rodents aren't likely to use them.

You may be tempted to use rat or mouse poison - but this could inadvertently kill your hens, too. And if a rat or mouse dies in the hen house or run, the chickens will eat it, and may experience second hand poisoning second hand.

A snake that's just eaten an egg.
How to Keep Snakes Out of the Hen House


Chickens like to eat snakes, too, but sometimes a brave snake will sneak into the hen house to swallow an egg whole. The biggest deterrent here is to raise the chicken coop off the ground. Snakes are unlikely to slither up a ramp to get into a chicken coop. You can also look for holes in the coop that may need filling in -  a 1/4 inch hole or slit is plenty big for most snakes. If that doesn't work, you'll need to look at putting screening up along the edges of the run (as opposed to chicken wire or something similar), so snakes can't get through.

Incidentally, if snakes are attracted to your hen house, it may be because there are rodents there, too.



In Conclusion

You can keep all egg-eating pests at bay by following these simple steps:

* Raise the hen house off the ground.
* Fill any and all holes in the hen house with either steel wool or a tough screening material.
* Keep the coop, run, and nearby areas tidy.
* Cover the run. (If you can't do this right away, tie streamers around the hen house to scare birds.)
* Use finer material (like screening) on the run.
* Use raised feeders filled with pellets.
* Use waterers with nipples on them.
* Store feed in a metal container with a secure lid.
* Collect eggs at least once a day.
* Lock the coop up at night.



Images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons and MorgueFile.