The Ugly Truth About Chickens

They stink, they eat their own eggs, they peck each other bald and consume more feed than what it costs to buy the organic, range-free eggs. All of these truths were tolerable until we inherited my Dad’s dog, Max. Max doesn’t care for chickens. In fact, the only chicken Max has any affinity for is a dead chicken. He can kill a chicken quicker than a .22 bullet to the heart. When the chickens went into 24 hour confinement, so did their excrement. They no longer free ranged and that quadrupled their feed amount at about the same time corn based animal feed nearly doubled in cost. Raising chickens was no longer fun, relaxing or rewarding. It became tedious, expensive and frankly, quite smelly. I had a friend in need of some chickens, so I boxed them up, loaded them into the back of her SUV and said farewell to my chicken raising days.

There is now an eerie calm and hushed silence out on the farm. I no longer have every bird within a 5 mile radius stopping by for a bite to eat or quick drink from the chicken pen. There is no 4 AM rooster crow to remind us that the sun will be rising in the next 3 hours or angry cackle from a mad hen warning that the dogs are too close to the pen. No frozen water to break or tote by 5 gallon bucket in the sub freezing temperatures. Do I miss my chickens? Hmmm…. Ask me in a few more months.  I’m now thinking bunnies are the wave of the future on the Jordan farm – or maybe a little pig – or a couple goats – or a new calf…

A New Normal

Spring was not a time for growth and regeneration this year.  In fact, it’s been one of the tougher seasons of my adult life.  We said goodbye to Bitsy the Wonder Dog, then we said goodbye to my Grandpa Pete and then we lost my Dad.  It was bitter, it was cold and the storm front didn’t pass until about last week when the sun finally peeked out from behind the clouds and the daily temperature shot from the 60’s into the 90’s.  I’m not going to pretend that it hasn’t been rough.  It’s been hell.  The important part is that we found our way through it and we did it as a family.

Things are different around here now.  The story continues but it’s a definitely new chapter and the newness of it hasn’t quite worn off yet.  There’s a new crow from the chicken coop, the sound of a puppy yapping while she plays in the yard and the husky bark of my Dad’s dog as he adjusts to his new home.  We have the bottom hay fields leased out to a neighbor, most of the cows have been moved to a different pasture closer town and even Tinkerbell has a date with the auction block in the next few months.  I’m slowly but surely decreasing the size of my chicken flock, I don’t work as many overtime hours and I spend a few minutes of every one of my days literally watching our green grass grow — yes, you read right, we finally have a lawn.

So yes, things are getting back to normal around here.  It’s a new normal but we’re all adjusting to it and embracing what it brings.

Not Much Happening…

I believe we are about finished calving out here on the farm.  I’ve decided to let go of the responsibility and let my father-in-law run the entire show.  If he gets to make all of the decisions then he can figure the rest out, too.  I just have Tinkerbell to worry about now and that seems to be enough for me – well, Stinky-Tinky AND the chickens, of course.  Tinkerbell had her calf last week.  He’s a cutie.  He got a little confused after he was born and followed me all the way back up to the porch.  Tink was not happy about that but they figured it out and things have been fine since.

We will be bringing home a new puppy in another month or so.  She’s a little Corgi.  I never thought I’d like that breed but I some how fell in love with the little beasts.  They are a big dog brain on little dog legs.  They are herders, which I think helps me understand them a little bit better than other breeds.  We’ll see how Scout likes the company.

I’ve been spending my nights either at work or at home learning all about digital scrapbooking.  You’d think it would cost less and be much quicker but that hasn’t quite turned out to be true in my case.  It probably has something to do with my ancient desktop computer that I still refuse to upgrade from XP.  

Chicks will begin arriving at the Feed Store this week.  My goal is to get a couple Americaunas (green egg layers) and a few little bantams.  That’s it.  Now that I’ve figured out what I like and don’t like about this chicken business, I’m going to thin down the flock some.  I think 30-40 chickens is about the perfect number.  So if you’d like any 1-2 year old hens that are already laying great eggs – just let me know and I’ll get them ready for you!   

More Chicks!

I had nearly a 100% hatch rate on my latest incubator full of eggs and now I have 42 chicks that need a new home.  Fall may seem like an odd time to hatch chicks but I think it is the perfect time.  They can spend the first 5-8 weeks in a box in the garage as their feathers fill in and only need the heat of a lightbulb to keep warm through the nights once they move outside.  They should start laying eggs in April and lay nearly daily until November.  Most chickens like to take the winter off but I can usually convince them to keep laying by bribing them with some heat and light.

The downfall of getting chicks in the spring is they only have a month or two of established egg laying before the days shorten and weather chills – the two factors that can end the laying cycle until the following spring.  I look at the issue from a mathematical stand point.  Fall chicks tend to provide a better egg to food ratio over a lifetime than the spring chicks. 

Keeping chickens is so much easier than most people believe it to be.  My first flock I spent hundreds of hours in self-education and more money than I like to admit in building the perfect hen house.  My second flock, I incubated myself and used a left over dog house with a tarp over top of a chain link kennel.  Frankly, the second flock of chickens produced more eggs.

Chickens are so easy to keep that I think more people should have them.  Hens can live in most city yards.  They don’t take a lot of space to live.  Fresh eggs actually do taste better than store bought eggs and it’s nice to not only know where food comes from but what it’s treated with before it gets to the frig.

If you want to give it a try – call me.  I can hook you up with eggs or chickens or both…  If you don’t like raising chickens – you can bring the chickens back to me – or eat them. 

Eggs for Sale…

So today I made my first official egg sale.  I met a gentleman in Bend and sold him a carton of 18 eggs for $4.  Of course – I threw in an extra carton for good measure…  Why not – I have so many right now that we are out of space in both refrigerators and there is no way I’m going to buy an extra frig just to store eggs!  I mean – for that kind of money I could get another fancy little chicken coop and another 50 chickens or so…  And yes, friends, that is truly how my brain works these days.

I still need to make about 20 more chicken coats.  They wear them on their backs to prevent them and their coop-mates from eating/picking all of their feathers off.  For a few, I’m a little late.  Poor Big Mama looks like a nearly bald chicken.  It’s not pretty.  It’s on the edge of frightening when you stare at her long enough.  I thought about isolating her in the brooder in the garage until she fills back out but chickens just hate to be alone and they already pick on her so much – I’m afraid I’ll never be able to get her integrated back into the flock.

She’s one of my favorites.  Big Mama, The-Little-White-Hen, Blackie, Blondie and Zoey’s Rooster are my only chickens with names and they are my favorites.  They are also some of the rougher looking birds right now – I think maybe because they are the most gentle and get picked on the most.  Maybe when it gets a little cooler I’ll move a couple of them inside the garage together to regrow their feathers and fatten them up a bit.  There’s an idea…

I’m not looking forward to my return to work tomorrow.  Yes, I love my job but sometimes work really feels like work and I don’t feel caught up with anything around the house.  I signed up for a bunch of extra shifts in the next couple weeks, too.  I guess that is what I’m really dreading.  It’s not really the extra hours – it’s the lack of rest in between regular shifts and extra shifts that kills me.  I mean – I see most of the people on one of the worst days of their lives.  You get enough of those in a row and the mind begins to crave Farmville.  Point – click – point – click…  You get the idea. 

Ironically, I do get more regular sleep while I am working, though – so that’s a plus.  I don’t think I’ve had more than 2-3 hours of sleep in a row for the past 4 days – except for Monday.  I fell asleep around 6 am and Jeff woke me up around 8-9 that night.  I probably could have slept nearly 24 hours straight.  That’s the way it works…  Someday I might change things but for now it’s a necessary evil. 

So…

It turns out I’m not very good at blogging…  I think it may have been all of the time I spent on FarmVille.  I’m cutting back on that.  I’m experiencing some withdrawal but I’ve promised myself not to plant any crops until my real garden is planted.  I tried to convince Jeff that we ought to test out some farm implements this year – plow the front yard then drill it with hay seed.  Then – when it comes time to mow the lawn, we can bale it and feed it to some hungry critter around here.  He looked at me like I was joking – I think he may be in for a surprise down the road.

I’m resisting all temptation to order some turkey poults – so far, that is…  I’m not sure why I want them but I keep finding myself looking through hatchery sites to find them.  I have cut the chicken flock down a few roosters, I’m giving away 5 of my flightier hens to a fellow farmer who needs his flock boosted a bit – and I’m giving two of my calmest, sweetest hens to my just-as-sweet massage therapist who tragically lost one of her hens last week.  That ought to leave me with 65 birds total — 6 roosters, 33 laying hens and 26 pullets that should start laying mid July…  If I only had another chicken pen and hired hand to help with the daily feeding/watering.

In truth, it sounds like more chickens than it looks.  Even Jeff was surprised by the number.  They really don’t take up much space – and even if you give them space, most of them tend to huddle together.  I can’t help but notice all of the empty old barns and sheds I see along the highway and think, “Geez – I could fit a hundred chickens in there!” 

You Might Train your Dragon but ….

How do you bathe a chicken?  I’m afraid this is my next adventure and I’m not looking forward to it.  And why is it that the roosters that fit within the breed definition are a bit mean and too rough on the hens but the ones with all the wrong colors are the gentle, nice guys?  I think Darwin is off the hook on this but Murphy and his annoying law come to mind…  Not sure what to do about it all, either. 

I’m averaging between 15-20 eggs a day and the best news is that my little Black Copper Maran has started laying those infamous “chocolate” colored eggs made famous by James Bond.  I’m still hoping to “bump” into someone willing to bring my eggs with them to a local Farmer’s Market to sell this summer but it all usually sounds easier than it winds up actually being.  I’ve taken the “wait and see” approach.

Working night shift has been kicking my hiney and zapping me of energy these past few weeks so all of my great intentions have gone to the wayside.  Landscaping feels futile at this point.  Oh well, at least the house is clean and the hot tub has been refilled.  It’s a start.  I keep expecting to tire of the chickens but they continue to entertain me.  I decided that it is because it’s like an Easter Egg hunt every day.  I never know how many or what colors or what size will be next to fill my basket and every day it’s a little bit exciting to find out. 

Today Scout snuck into the hen house while I wasn’t paying attention – then she wouldn’t come out!  She mostly herds them with a random good chase or two thrown in for good measure.  Hasn’t hurt one yet but I keep a close eye on her.  Bitsy is more of a control freak.  She will bite them – not to kill but to hold.  The other day I picked one up and about the time I realized it was too heavy to be just a chicken, I saw Bitsy with her jaw locked on it’s tail-feathers!  She let go but the trust is gone.

I’m still battling feather loss and mites.  I thought I had everything under control but I think it’s going to take a few weeks to get ahead of the problem — hence the chicken baths.  That should be interesting!

Beautiful Day!

Awe, man! Today is a reminder that summer is on its way – and one of those days that I wish I didn’t have to work… There’s not a cloud in the sky, no gale force winds to contend with and temperatures are in the high sixties. The chickens have done very well free-ranging in the afternoons though I wish I felt safe enough to let both the dogs and chickens run free together. I try to give each 1/2 a day out in the sunshine.

My “tiny chicken” has found a home. My last hatch had a surprise banty cochin in it – and though I’ve had it in the chick-condo with the babies, it wouldn’t be long before they would be double in size – which put me in a bit of a conundrum because big chickens could easily kill a tiny chicken without even meaning to. So tiny chicken is now “Chance” and lives with a sweet little girl addicted to the love of animals. Chance’s biggest worry now will be Leo – the chocolate lab…

My incubator is on schedule to start hatching tomorrow. I have not been nearly as attentive to this hatch as my previous hatches due to respiratory funk that I’ve just not been able to kick. Respiratory infections can pass from human to egg – hence the worry with Avian flu – so I’ve been careful to stay away. We’ll see if the hatch is successful or not within the next 48-72 hours or so.

Tonight will be my first night back to work after being sick. It’s one of the drawbacks of being a nurse. When sick people always surround you, it’s inevitable that eventually, you will catch something. Now the goal becomes to continue getting better and not get sucked back into the vortex of illness…

Spring Improvements

The chickens are free ranging and the dogs are not, I think we only have 1 cow left to calve this year and a friend is finishing my much desired garden boxes.  As much work as our lives can be at times, this is what makes it all worth it.  A ray of sunshine, two baskets of fresh eggs, playful calves running around the pasture, healthy happy dogs and dark fertile soil full of promises – this is the good stuff.