Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

Scratch That

In Chicken husbandry on June 10, 2011 at 1:58 pm

June 10th

What do chickens eat you ask?  OK, no one asked but that’s what I feel like talking about today.  For the first four months of their life, the main staple of their diet is chick starter.  This early food is higher in protein and lower in calories than the layer ration they will start eating sometime in early September.  Since they were a few days old, my girls have been eating hand-caught bugs (see Bugs Are Tasty, April 27, & Bugs Revisited, May 11).  Now they catch their own bugs in their coop and in the back yard.  They will eat almost anything we eat.  On hot days I give them watermelon rind (I leave some red on it).  When they are done, the entire white rind is gone; only the thin green skin is left. I keep a bowl of kitchen scraps on my kitchen counter for treats.  It contains everything from carrot skin, to slightly old grapes and cherries to stale bread and eggshells. I have a compost crock and two composters in the yard, but now it seems that the girls are doing most of the composting for me. You can also feed them something called scratch.  This is like candy for chickens.  They love it, but too much is not good for them.  Scratch is a mixture of different grains, usually cracked corn, wheat and oats.  A handsome farmer boy I met at the feed store told me he uses scratch to train his chickens to come when he calls.  He has a coffee can containing scratch that he shakes and calls “chick, chick, chick!”  He pours some of it on the ground in front of them and they get the idea to come running when they hear the noise.  Of course I had to find a red coffee can at the grocery store to coordinate nicely with their red coop and feeders. 

I looked for Community, but all they had was this French Market Coffee.  I’ll let you know if it’s any good later.  (I emptied it and put it in a baggie in the freezer.)  So far, Violet, Rosie & Daisy don’t get the “shake-shake, chick-chick, scratch” connection.  The shaking sound scares them and they run away before they can see that the yummy food comes from the scary can.  They eventually find the pile of scratch but I don’t think their tiny brains understand that it comes from the pretty red coffee can.  I put it near the scratch so at least they can see that the can and the scratch are “friends”. 

Chickens who forage, as mine do for about two hours every day don’t really need “grit” but you can supplement a chicken’s diet with this if you wish.  Grit is like roughage for them. Foraging chickens pick up tiny stones, sand and dirt to help grind their food.  Chicken digestion is fascinating, (OK maybe just to me).  Food is stored in the crop.  Usually, at the end of about four hours, the food moves down to the first stomach, (who knew?) and then on to the second stomach, otherwise known as the gizzard. Since chickens have no teeth their food is ground up in their gizzard. Any gritty material the chicken has consumed during the day is ground up here.  Then, on to the small and large intestine and then voila! Out the vent.  (yes, it’s called a “vent”)  I’m sure this is way more info than you were ready for, especially if you haven’t had breakfast.  I’m just all about the quest for knowledge today.  I’ll try to be less educational in my next post.

PS, I was gonna call this one “Venting” but I changed my mind.  Aren’t you glad?

Violet in Action!


Feline & Fowl

In Chicken husbandry on June 8, 2011 at 2:08 pm

June 8th

We’re still trying to “introduce” the chickens to our kittens.  At first we had to keep them completely separated because the chicks were small and defenseless and the cats thought they looked like lunch.  Gradually we have been supervising playtime in the back yard and Rowdy and Sam are getting the idea that we don’t eat our friends. 

Our two old lady cats have never shown any aggression toward the chickens, nor do they show any interests whatsoever.  They are both 16 and heading toward the light so they don’t get very excited about new family members. The little cats however, had some experience (before they were declawed) with carnage and mayhem.  Rowdy was dispatching a bird a week and Sam was not far behind.  So when we introduced three tasty looking tidbits into our home, our kitties saw them as food not family. 

 Now you may be asking, “Deb, you crazy woman, why would you ever let CATS around your chickens after what happened to Daisy?”  My response: The average lifespan of a well-cared for chicken can be up to 10 years.  One chicken on record lived to be 20 and was still laying an average of 12 eggs a year. So you see, we can’t keep our animals separated for 10 or more years.  It would be virtually impossible and not very fun. We love sitting in our backyard in the evening and enjoying the interaction of four distinct species of  Burlingames (homo-sapiens included). 

Buster gets along well with the chicks and enjoys occasionally chasing one for fun.  Our old lady cats walk casually by and look disinterested. The kittens crouch and stalk and pounce but have not actually made contact with any of the girls.  Very soon Violet will be big enough to kick Rowdy’s kitty butt-hocks. 

When the kittens do get too aggressive and ignore our “no, no” warning, they get a “time-out” on the porch.  We never leave feline & fowl alone unsupervised and probably will not do so until the chickens outweigh the kittens. (Give ‘em two more months) Plus Rowdy and Sam are very well fed and not as motivated or desperate as a feral cat.  Drop by the B’game farm any evening and observe the indigenous wildlife flourishing on the suburban plain.  Y’all come!

Chicken Nuggets

In Chicken husbandry on June 6, 2011 at 2:25 pm

June 6th

No theme today.  Just an excuse to throw out some nuggets of chicken wisdom you might be interested in, and I have some nice pictures to share.  Did you know chickens take dust baths?  Besides being fun, it’s essential for their health.  They like to wallow (“waller” as we say in South Miss) in sandy soil.  They make these little dirt pits themselves or you can make one for them in your yard or in a sandbox.  The dust clogs the breathing pores of parasites that prey on chickens.  After they get as far down in the dirt as possible, they shake themselves off and start preening. Violet and Rosie found an area near my grill where I’ve been trying to grow grass for about 3 months.  Oh well.  So much for that! 

They were so cute digging and rolling around in the dirt.  Daisy was otherwise occupied chasing a leaf.  Oh and I keep forgetting to mention Daisy’s health.  She is fully recovered. 

Nice Drumsticks!

She runs, flies and plays with her sisters and except for being slightly smaller than them, she seems to have suffered no ill effects of her horrible ordeal.  Way to go my little yellow fluffball!  My eldest chick was visiting this weekend and she enjoyed walking around the yard with one of her new sisters.

We found a simple way to provide a constant spot of shade inside the coop and keep the water shaded all day so it doesn’t get hot.  Jim cut out a square of plywood and we put it on the east side in the morning and switch it to the west side in the afternoon. 

 He was  thinking of building some shade panels for the end of the coop which would involve more sweltering hours in the garage with saws, hammers and paintbrushes, but I suggested just making the plywood square and moving it once a day.  Sometimes it pays to have a simple brain!  It took him 15 minutes to measure, cut and prime it.  Here are some more pictures of the girls as they continue to grow.

Please stop by and visit.  We had some fun with a few of our neighbors this weekend who just popped in to meet the girls.  One lucky friend (Hi Skeeter!) got in on some peach cobbler.  She’s a beautiful, slender gal who really doesn’t look like she can put away second helpings, but she did!  That’s my kind of chick.


In Chicken husbandry on June 4, 2011 at 4:04 pm

June 4th 

When it cools off in the evening we let the ladies free range and they run all over the yard looking for bugs and eating grass.  Sometimes one will come over and sit on me or on the side of my chair and let me pet her.  Daisy digs her hot little talons into my ample thighs before she settles down on my lap. 

At a little before 8:00 they all start to make little agitated noises as they make their way back to the coop. 

When they’re all in, we shut the door and wait for them to ascend the stairs to their night-time suite.  So far this ascension has been rife with comedy.  None of them are very good at it but Violet is getting the hang of it fastest.  She gets halfway up the red gangplank and then, as soon as she sees the second floor, she just says, “I don’t need no stinkin’ stairs!” and she flies to the second floor. 

Poor Rosie makes several attempts and finally copies her sister’s maneuver with much less grace and coordination. 

 Alas, my little Daisy has not gone up by herself the entire week.  The first two nights we actually picked her up and put her through the nest box door.  The next three nights we watched her get almost to the top of the stairs (after falling off a few times) and then SIT on the second stair from the top.  She can actually see the top floor, but it’s like she just gives up and says, “This is an OK place to roost.” 

 Last night we were determined to wait it out until she made it all the way up by her ownself.  So we sat, and we sat, and we watched, and we…you get the idea.  Daisy had once again plopped down on the second stair and was staring at us like, “What’s the problem?” Jim decided to help her.  He crouched in the side opening, (an easier task for him than me) and he put his hand under Daisy’s fluffy little bod.  She sat calmly in the palm of his hand while he tried to “push” her up to the next step.  It took a while, but he finally had success and Daisy got on the perch with her sisters.  While he was doing this patient and compassionate act, I grabbed the camera and took a picture of his butt. 

Now, Jim does not read my blog because he is a big pooper head so if you don’t say anything, he’ll never know.  Shhhhhhhhh.  It’s a very nice looking butt in my opinion.  Enjoy.  Oh, if you don’t hear from me for a few days, Jim has found out about this photo and has locked me in the attic.  Please call 911.

Fried Chicken

In Chicken husbandry on June 3, 2011 at 7:00 pm

June 3rd

 Many of you have been concerned about my chickens during this horrible heat.  I’ll tell you some things I do to make their days tolerable.  First, at least half of their coop area is shaded all day.  As the sun moves around the girls find the shady spot and sit there.  I put an oscillating fan next to the wire. 

I fill their waterer twice a day with ice water, and I made a kiddie pool for them out of one of Jim’s old oil pans.  During the hottest part of the day I bring them a little bowl of frozen fruit.  I chop up whatever I have on hand and leave it in the freezer for an hour.  Today’s menu is grapes, strawberries, watermelon and peaches. 

They stand on the side of the little pool and dip their hot feet in it.  Have you ever felt a chicken foot? Well it’s hot!—and pointy!  They also dip their beaks in the water and “splash” some under their wings and over their feathers. I keep waiting for one to pretend she’s a duck and just jump in.  I would! 

Are they perfectly cool and comfortable all day?  Probably not.  Short of bringing them in my air-conditioned house, I’m sure they will be pretty hot during the middle of the day.  I went online and read a few posts by some chicken experts who were answering the questions I had about the heat.  I’m doing everything they advise and I hope they aren’t too unhappy.  We can’t have heat like this all summer (or can we?)  I’m not sure this chick will make it until autumn if we do.  Keep cool.

Coop de Ville

In Chicken husbandry on June 2, 2011 at 7:48 pm

June 2nd

We’re wondering if we should paint something on the side of the coop or on the tin roof like barns from the olden days.  I’ve seen ads for Chew Red Man, See Rock City and my uncle even painted Fly Navy on his.  Our pal Dennis coined Fort Clucker.  So far that’s my favorite.  I’d love some suggestions! Bring ‘em on. We’ve had lots of interest in our little chicken mansion.  People can’t believe that Jim built it with his own two hairy hands (not the palms).  He’s not sure if this is a compliment or if he should be insulted.  He did use a book we ordered from a website but he modified it quite a bit.  Here is the website if anyone would like to create their own backyard chicken dwelling.  No, I don’t know this guy and I’m not getting any kickbacks from mentioning his site.  Jim and I spent a LOT of time on the internet looking for an efficient, good-looking design and this was the best we found for our needs.  We wanted it to be a great place for the chickens to live, but we also wanted it to be cute. 

You see, our neighborhood actually does not allow “poultry”.  When I hear the word “poultry”, I think of dinner.  Surely they don’t mean Violet, Rosie & Daisy, right?  Most of my neighbors know about my chickens and we’re certainly not making a secret of them or I wouldn’t be writing the chickendiary.  Plus, it would be hard to hide them in our back yard.  So far everyone has been excited and interested in them and our little project, and at the very least, they are uncomplaining.  My evil plan was to get the project started and by the time my neighbors (and the powers that be) saw the finished product they would be charmed and delighted.  In actuality, if you read the ordinance at a 45 degree angle under a 75 watt bulb the day before a full moon, you can interpret it in a way that lets us off the hook.  Our chickens are PETS.  The eggs they will produce in four months well be enjoyed and appreciated, but these girls are not being raised for food or commercial purposes.  Our ordinance prevents Fred and Thelma Tigglebottom from erecting a giant, smelly, loud chicken coop and raising 50 chickens.  Fred and Thelma would probably have a clothesline too (a real no-no in our neighborhood, although I’d really love to have a clothesline—I’d better not push my luck).  People can have a nice doghouse in their back yard, and some dogs are much more of a nuisance than my chicks. 

Daisy will never poop in your yard or chirp so loud that you can’t have a decent conversation on your porch in the evening.  You’ll never be afraid of little Rosie running loose and taking a bite out of your leg while you’re out on your morning walk.  (Don’t let her anywhere NEAR your earrings though!) Plus, I think our coop is cuter than any dog house I’ve ever seen. So I’ve said my piece.  Am I in violation of the letter of law? Yes.  The spirit–in my opinion, no.  Homewood (a suburb of Birmingham) allows for five chickens per household in a neighborhood setting.  I think this is a great idea.  Who wouldn’t want food and entertainment from sweet, pretty, happy birds?  I won’t get all preachy about the lives of the chickens who lay the eggs we buy at the Piggly Wiggly. But I look forward to the day when I can get my breakfast from my friends in the backyard.

Goodnight Sweet Chicks

In Chicken husbandry on June 1, 2011 at 12:09 pm

May 31

The girls made it through the night in their new house.  I was so excited to let down the trap door and watch them walk down that I was in my robe in the back yard at 5:30 this morning!  I lowered the door and…nothing.  I looked in the nest box door and saw them all lined up on their perch sitting quietly.  I waited and watched and then gave up and went to make Jim’s lunch and fix the coffee pot.  Jim said he thought they wouldn’t walk out until sunrise. I made that noise I always make when he’s being a smarty pants–sounds like letting the air out of a birthday balloon.  Anyway, he looked up sunrise/sunset times for Montgomery, on the “intra-web”.  We waited some more. Then, they finally walked out about 10 minutes AFTER sunrise, Mr. Wizard!  I assume the girls were putting on their faces and didn’t want to come down until they looked pretty.  This sunrise/sunset thing also explains why they wouldn’t go up the stairs of their coop last night.  We were sitting in the back yard for a long time waiting for that magical moment when they would discover the stairs and go up to see their great bedroom. 

They just kept pecking, and cooing and chasing each other and I was getting impatient.  So I grabbed Daisy and shoved her through the upstairs door.  Then I grabbed Violet and did the same.  I could not catch Miss Rosie so we sat and watched to see what she would do.  She can’t be apart from Violet for more than 60 seconds so as soon as she heard Violet’s squawk she found the stairs and walked right up!  Yay!!!  Then I pulled up their little red gangplank and locked them in for the night.  According to the sunset chart they would have put themselves to bed about 15 minutes later if I had just been more patient.  So tonight we’re gonna wait for the magical moment when the stars align and the chickens become ONE with the universe and they waddle magically to their sleeping quarters on their own. 

Our crazy cat Sammy enjoyed the coop too after she got tired of trying to break in and get some chicken nuggets.

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