Thursday, January 05, 2017

Chickens!

It's time to meet the ladies! 
In November we bought four hens. I have never had chickens in my life, but Facilities Manager grew up with them so we were totally willing to give it a go. We'd been ready with the chicken cube (coop) in all of its green-ness to have residents for several months, but, besides the coop and FM's childhood memories, we were unprepared. Honestly, we didn't think we'd find any hens this time of year but on our local homesteader's Facebook page we found a nearby family that was selling the farm. Well, selling off the chickens, ducks, a turkey and some goats, anyhow. Recognizing the opportunity for non-stop fun, I jumped at the chance. And, I said, oh, hey, Facilities Manager, how about four hens? Not ready? Sure you're ready. Let's go now!

We were off and running, driving about 20 minutes south to buy a few hens one rainy Sunday. One minute we were doing chores around the house, the next we were off to buy chickens.

We didn't know what specific breed we were looking for, just four gals that got along and were layers. If I remember correctly, these are all about two-year-old hens. Pictured here is Effie. More on her in a moment. The woman who sold them to us pointed out each one and we basically bought whomever was closest that she thought would be a good layer. With four hens in a giant cardboard box, we headed home. Well, to the feed store first. Did I mention we were a little unprepared? 

After buying feed, scratch, oyster shells, corn, a feeder and a water tub, we were ready. We unloaded the girls into their new home and they, in true chicken form, took to it right off. They really are very easy and sweet and do exactly the right thing at the right time. No training on how to jump up on their roost, no training for getting them into their coop at night. It has been pretty basic and a lot of fun so far. 


Here they are. FM calls this the "album cover picture." Front and center is Frida, back row left to right: Effie, Betty and Blanche. Let's meet them individually, how about that?


First up, Frida. She's a speckled Sussex and she's also our favorite because of her sweet personality. She's definitely the most curious and friendly, and most of the time the first one out of the coop in the morning. She's not the lead hen in the pecking order, however as she does get bullied a very tiny bit. The girls all do generally get along so it's hard to tell what the pecking order is. I've just seen Betty and Blanche nudge her aside to get at her food, that's about as bad as the pecking gets. She gets her name because, well, it's a cool name and I love Frida Kahlo.

FM here: I thought it was spelled Frita, as in Frito Layer (of eggs)?


See? She's first at the door, ready to go.



She loves bugs, and will happily take them from my hand, as well as seed or anything else I'm offering.


She's the first (and only so far) one of the group to make it up the stairs to the deck, checking things out. Curious Frida.



She's cruisin'!


Meet Blanche. We were told she's a Jersey giant, but we aren't sure. Whatever breed she is, she's sweet. Her name matches the little old lady theme and, well, she's black so it's funny. Plus, we love saying "BlaAAAAnche" followed by "Stella!"


She's primarily black with a little bit of sheen on her feathers. She's kind of shy but goes along with the others. She ate out of my hand once. No worries, I'll have her in my lap in no time.



Gal on the go!


And the perfect chicken shape.


Meet Effie! Named after one of David's late great-aunts, she's the pretty one. To me she's the stern great aunt you don't mess with. She looks mean but really, she's fine, even a bit timid. I'd say she's actually the shyest of them all, often the last to leave the coop in the morning. We don't know her breed, there was a lot of lovin' going on at her former home, so many chicken mixes, if you know what I mean. Wink wink!


I love this shot of her, she looks like a cartoon character in her expression.


Very beautiful. Her silver gray feathers are marked with a bronze center on much of her body. Her head is primarily gray. I should also mention that the combs on all of the girls are quite small and from what I understand this is good as it means they are generally cold hardy birds. If they were larger there is a danger of frost damage in winter months in colder regions.



Aaand, to round out the little old lady theme, here's Betty! She's the boss of us all. We were told she's a gold-laced Wyandotte, but there was a lot of hanky panky at the old farm, so she could be a certified mutt. If there was a pecking order, she'd be at the top of the pile. She has eaten out of my hand and is kind of friendly. And pretty noisy. She is often the first to sing her morning song.



Betty contemplates leaving the nice warm coop for the frigid rewards of foraging in the snow.


Ha ha, I love this because behind Betty you can see Blanche in motion jumping down off of her roost. Bombs away! That Blanche, always stealing the show.



She shows off her beautiful warm-colored feathers. 


The coop: To recap Facility Manager's building adventures, he spent the summer tinkering around with his coop. It's super insulated with a raised floor with much gravel and layers of chicken wire underneath to prevent predators digging their way in. Plus there is a cinder block base. The pen has the wire buried into the ground a bit, as well as rocks around, also to discourage unwanted predators. Songbirds, though? They jump right in and help themselves to seed. The chickens don't seem to mind. The window opens for ventilation, and there is a small door to the pen seen in the next photo. He built it small and tight, so it stays really warm in winter. 


Here, the girls hang out in their pen. Facilities Manager added wire to the top of the pen well before the hens arrived and as soon as we got them in there, we realized they need a dry place, so we put a tarp over the top for the winter (yes, that's snow on top of the tarp). FM then added plywood to the north and east sides to help block out winter winds, also for winter. Both can be removed when the weather warms in the spring. You might notice the nest boxes at the back of the pen. They had been in the coop but there is not a good spot for them to avoid being bombarded with chicken poo. For now they sit outside---we did see a squirrel in it once. At least someone's using it. FM will make appropriate nesting boxes another day, for now they're not laying anyhow so it's not a huge concern.



Scratch around! I have that hip hop song Jump Around by House of Pain in my head every time I see them scratching. Of course, I've changed the lyrics to suit me. It's their theme song, much to everyone's chagrin (Facilities Manager's especially). Scratch around indeed! I bust out in scratching moves while singing hip hop every chance I get.


Another interesting thing I've learned about these girls is that they come RUNNING toward you if you have a metal bowl. They associate it with food. Here I brought out an empty bowl to place my olive harvest in (a little coffee was spilled), and these girls came out of nowhere. They even sampled the dab of coffee. No like.


After I had harvested my olives and came walking back up to the house, I looked up to see this.


Ooooh, yummy bitter green olives (blech). What you don't see is the 14 or so olives thrown on the ground. One by one they kept picking an olive out thinking it might be tasty then throwing it on the ground then going in for another, thinking IT might be tasty. I think this would have gone on until they cleaned out the bowl if I hadn't taken it away.


I have this rock bird bath that they found right away. They really love drinking out of this and can empty it in no time between the four of them.



Ha ha, close up cam. See Frida's bent tail feather? She's generally a bit frazzled. But first in line!


I love looking out while I'm gardening and seeing a little bit more life in the garden. The ladies, or girls, seem to fit right in. They often follow me around, but it's been so cold and miserable outside since their arrival that they haven't had a lot of outside exposure. What they have had, they seem to really enjoy. They scratch and peck for insects and have already eaten their fair share of cutworms (yay!). They seem to leave my plants alone for the most part and have an instinct about what not to eat, something I learned studying up on them. That's good news as we plan on allowing them a modified free-range lifestyle. They all hang out together as a flock and are very perceptive about what's happening in their surroundings. Cats don't bother them at all, in fact Lucy is petrified when she sees them and goes slinking back inside. Hobbes did at first, but now he just avoids/ignores them. They know they are bigger than him and they have no fear.

Our routine has been feeding and giving them fresh water first thing in the morning, and on very cold mornings they get warm oatmeal with cinnamon (good for their circulation) and sometimes yogurt. We feed them table scraps (veggies mostly) sometimes along with their feed and scratch. Then they are let out of their pen if we are going to be home for a while and they want to go out (if it's not too cold and/or rainy). If they do hang outside, they congregate close to the house and under the deck if we're not outside with them. If we're around, it's a safe bet that they are near us. Around 3 pm they sense the sun is low and head back to their coop. We lock them in for the night, all tucked in. 

Of course, we didn't get them just to be fun mascots in the garden. They are valuable additions to the farm. They add fertilizer (poop) and have already been helping with bugs. They will eventually lay eggs, we hope. Probably in the spring when the days are a little longer and we have proper nesting boxes set up for them. They will not be meat chickens, they will be our egg chickens, our pals and pets in the garden.

FM is going to teach me how to hypnotize them one of these days.

Go Frida, go!

Many of you have experience with chickens and are hopefully laughing along with us. We are, as mentioned, new at this so I'm sure we'll learn all kinds of chicken facts along the way. That is to say, we are no experts. Since becoming a chicken mommy and wanting to learn as much as possible, I have plowed through three books about chickens, all of which I found to be most helpful. They are Raising Chickens for Dummies by Willis and Ludlow, Free Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom and Gardening with Chickens by Lisa Steele. There are also great websites and blogs, a couple of my favorites are Fresh Eggs Daily and Backyard Chickens.com. Chicken-keeping has gained such momentum lately, resources are quite abundant if you are interested.

There you have it. The farm is well on its way. Maybe our critter population will expand one day (don't tell FM) to include a duck or two or maybe a Guinea hen. Then again, I hear they are screechers - very loud. Maybe not. How about a pygmy goat? Hmm....

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and until next time, happy gardening!

21 comments :

  1. Such fine ladies! Also check out the chicken posts at http://www.theartofdoingstuff.com/. I like to read them even though I don't have chickens.

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    1. Thanks Amy! That is a fun website, I like her style of writing...thanks!

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  2. They're all good-looking girls! I would totally have chicken if our property was fully enclosed and we didn't have a coyote problem. One of our neighbors keeps some (he had to get rid of the rooster as there's apparently an ordinance prohibiting those) and he's managed to protect the hens from the local varmints but he also has good fencing.

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    1. Aah, yes, predators are certainly a concern. Fences are great, but only go so far. Coyotes are nothing to mess with! Rooster ordinances are common. Our neighbors have a rooster or two and the girls perk up every time they hear them!

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  3. Nice introduction to the girls. That Effie is a looker, all right. Betty is no slouch in that departments either. Fun to get some insight into their very individual personalities and habits. They were lucky girls, to be Mommed by you. Now to see what color their eggs will be.

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    1. Oooh, Effie. She's gorgeous. And they're all so soft. Aw, thanks for the sweet comment, Rickii. I'll keep you posted on the (someday) egg colors. Let's hope it's a rainbow!

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  4. Look at you guys go! Those are some beautiful (and lucky) ladies.

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    1. Hee hee..we're all lucky. It's a cosmic convergence of nuttiness around here.

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  5. I loved the rundown on their names and personalities. Hope they start laying soon. I've heard ducks and geese are much better at eating slugs than chickens.

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    1. I've heard that too, Alison. Truth be told, I gave them a small slug and they didn't eat it. Maybe they were having a bad feather day. I've read that slugs *can* be bad for them if the slug has gapeworms. There's debate on both sides. But yes, ducks and geese might be in our future too, we'll see!

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    2. Here's one example of slugs being bad for chickens, if anyone's interested: http://www.tillysnest.com/2011/12/slugs-html/

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  6. Great chicken portraits, Tamara! The one time I met them, I had that same impression of Effie as the stern aunt. I bet they all provide you two with constant entertainment. I got such a kick out of watching them explore their then new digs!

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    1. I'm so glad you had a chance to come out and meet them! It's kind of hypnotic, watching them explore. Sometimes FM will have to call me inside as it gets cold because I just stand there, hands in pockets watching them. Nothing else, just watching chickens. Like chicken t.v. Wow, I need to get a life.

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  7. Your chickens add great atmosphere to the 'farm' ! And who couldn't love a chicken named after Frida Kahlo ?

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    1. Yay! Glad you like the name, too. We're Frida fans around here.

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  8. awwww, i love your chickies! I can't wait to meet them this summer!!

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    1. Yes, come out and meet them! Don't wait until summer!

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  9. Anonymous7:38 AM PST

    Hello! I've been following your blog from the Chicago area. I really enjoy it along with a couple other garden bloggers from the Portland area. We were planning to move there these past 2 yrs, but now it seems we'll stick around in Illinois for a few more years. Anyway, just wanted to let you know that Effie and Betty are Ameraucana (Easter egg) chickens I believe. The breed looks like they have beards just like they do. Also, they are called that because of the bluish/green eggs they lay. I hope this helps!
    So jealous that you guys can enjoy gardening for about 10-11 mo of the year. Here we have winter for at least 4 months.... It feels like forever!
    Here is a link to a decent site that explores the breeds a bit more and shows the eggs:
    https://www.mypetchicken.com/chicken-breeds/breed-list.aspx

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    1. Thank you so much for commenting and for the link. That looks like our girls Effie and Betty, spot-on. We are excited to see what kind of eggs they lay - if they are Easter egg colors, great! And come on our to Portland...although it's snowing again today.

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  10. Great chickens. You gave them a good safe home, too.

    But Frita Layer? You need to have a talk with your FM.

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    1. Safe, cozy home these four have. FM calls them spoiled. Well.

      Yes, Frita Layer...he's so bad. Full of bad baaaad puns. I do need to have a one-on-one with FM. Thanks for pointing that out.

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