Tuesday, May 29, 2007

girls not yet roosting, right?

The literature I've read all recommends that we teach the girls to start roosting while they're young ("young" being a relative term, I suppose).

I tried a couple weeks back by putting a dowel across their cage, a couple inches off the floor, but no luck. Instead of roosting, they just huddle/sleep in the now-smaller-because-its-divided cage, occasionally looking at me as if to say "we used to have so much room! but this twig? why!?" After a couple nights of watching the dowel function as a poop-catcher instead of a foot-rest, I removed it.

Tonight, I tried again with a much wider dowel. Again, a couple inches off the ground, and I even tried manually placing them on the dowel so that they'd be roosting. It worked! Until I closed the lid to the cage and then they happily hopped down and cheep-cheep-cheeped about displeased they were I'd once again divided up the cage space.

This is frustrating to no end, as they seem to have no problem whatsoever "perching" for long periods of time on the side of the cage, or on the struts under the table outside or any other place besides inside their cage. In a week (once the Eglu comes), they'll be outside, and hopefully roosting instead of sleeping in their filth at the bottom of the coop.

I decided to use the Google to help find an answer, and lo and behold, I think I've found the problem: the roost is too close to the ground. Chickens like to roost high up, and I'm trying to get them to roost knee-high (if chickens had knees). So, I'm keeping up hope that once they get outside, they'll begin to roost like good chickens should.

For what it's worth, I've learned that if you're going to google anything with "chicks" in the string, you really do need to turn Safe Search "on." I'd never realized just how creatively demeaning the term "chick" was until my first few search results. I now know better (and you've been warned!)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

cotton candy for chickens

ZsuZsu chasing spiders outside
The girls are definitely enjoying the three day weekend: they've spent a couple hours outside each day so far.

We've done a lot of work in the yard, including moving our table and chairs to the mulch circle in the middle of the yard. This is the same mulch circle that the girls get to run around in. At first, I thought they'd be grateful for a little more cover to scratch the mulch under (they seem not to like to be exposed to things from above). Little did I know they'd have a field day eating all the spider webs that had formed around the legs of the table and the chairs. Over the course of an hour, they picked the undersides clean.

Not a spider web was spared, and the glee with which they attacked the job reminded me of the way little kids attack cotton candy. So there you are: spider webs are cotton candy for chickens.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

my eglu purchase experience so far

As posted earlier, I placed our order for an Eglu from the nice folks at Omlet USA on Monday night.

From previous experience, I knew that I wouldn't be able to pay for it over the web, and that I'd most likely be getting a call the next day asking for my credit card detail. Sure enough, just like the first time I placed an order (which I wound up canceling due to the lack of Gingernut Ranger pullets), I got a call from Claire at Omlet UK.

Claire's got exactly the kind of British accent you'd expect when talking to someone from the UK. Her pleasant demeanor was enhanced by little British-isms that peppered our interaction (the DHL lorrie will deliver our Eglu, etc), and her customer service tact was clearly a cut above the usual American-based call center order fulfillers I've had to interact with.

The explanation from Claire of how the Eglu order will be fulfilled:
  • with my payment in hand, the Iowa-based Eglu manufacturer will create our Eglu, and the process should take a couple days
  • I'll get a call from Omlet (or would you prefer an email? yes, an email would be better, thanks) with a tracking number when the Eglu is ready to ship via DHL lorrie
  • It should take the order a week to arrive in California, and it'll come in two boxes: one box will have the Eglu, the other will house the wire run and accessories
  • Thanks so much for your order, good day!
Let's see... that was Tuesday, add a couple days for manufacture and that's Friday at the latest, so... where's my tracking number?

A quick check of the Eglu-owners community hosted on the Omlet web site shows that I'm not the first to be impatient about an outstanding order.

Perhaps Claire should under-promise and over-deliver by saying manufacture will take a week (even if it's really only a two-day process) and send the tracking number pleasantly early.

Then again, maybe the DHL lorrie is already on its way to me and the Omlet folks simply forgot to email me the tracking number. I hope that's the case, as the girls now are the size of big pigeons, and the brooder's getting a wee bit cramped.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sing a Song Of Sixpence

Or any other song you like. Sophia and Zsuzsu love it!

I took them out of the cage tonight so they could stretch their wings a bit while I took care of housekeeping (coop-keeping?). They are incredibly curious, so once I finished my chores to their satisfaction, I sat down and let them check out the rivets on my jeans and the sequins on my top. (And no, I do not dress for dinner. Pay attention!)

They’re still a little hand-shy, except with Charlotte, so I waited for a few minutes before carefully picking up Sophia and putting her on my lap. She squawked--loudly--until I started to sing to her. Then she just nestled in my hands, chirping occasionally in a more encouraging tone. Zsuzsu came and stood by my knee, her head cocked to one side as if to say, "I'm next!"

They're partial to "Lullaby and Goodnight," though I’ve found that the next-best way to calm them down is to stroke just at the base of the neck, right between the wings. Nothing like a good back massage!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

pop goes the infrared heat lamp bulb

So, tonight the chicks are going to have to sleep in the dark for the first time since we brought them home.

Not that I'd planned it that way, but the infrared heat lamp bulb I bought when I purchased the chicks decided today was the day to prematurely fizzle out. I'd purchased the bulb specifically because it was rated to last 5,000 hours (guaranteed!) which I figured was more than enough time to heat the chicks to the point they could survive overnight without the added warmth.


The bulb didn't even make it to 15% of its expected lifetime (26days x 24hr/day = 624 hours on), and I'm not about to spend an hour plus $4 on gas to drive the 30 miles back to point of purchase to get a $12 replacement bulb. The chicks will just have to "rough it" for the next week indoors.

I'm not too worried, though. Forecast lows are in the mid-50s for the next week, and shortly after that, they'll be out in the Eglu anyway. They've got almost all their adult feathers already, and the rule of thumb is to lower the temperature of their brooding cage by 5 degrees a week until it gets to 70 degrees and then wean them off the heat lamp addiction.

The room their in is closed to the outside, but open to the interior of the house, so things shouldn't get much colder than 65 anyway.

I just put a night-light in their room tonight so as not to have things too dark, though. Sleep tight, chickies!

Monday, May 21, 2007

will coop color affect egg production?

The girls are developing their "big bird feathers" at such a clip that I know they'll be ready to stay outdoors by the end of the month.

That means I'm ready to order our Eglu (longtime readers will know this will be our second order), and now I can't pick a color from the five they offer:

Left Coast Mom says "anything but Pink." Last time, I heeded that advice, putting a blue Eglu in the digital shopping cart, and by the look on her face, I found out her preference was "anything but Pink or Blue."

I asked again tonight, and she retreated to her "anything but Pink" preference (I know better), so I thought I'd see if there's any research indicating coop color's effect on the egg-laying prowess of the foul contained therein.

Google's not much help on that front (what, no one paints the inside of their coops?), but I did find a handy reference from the University of Florida about Factors Affecting Egg Production in Backyard Chicken Flocks that runs the gamut from noninfectious causes (aging hens, malnutrition, flock management issues) to a tasty smörgåsbord of infectious goodies (fowl pox, avian flu, coryza, etc). But nothing about color of coop.

Guess I'll have to pick the color I like best and suffer the groans if I choose unwisely between green, red and orange (I like red at this particular moment in time).

Backyard (instead of back room) chickens, here we come!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

the allure of the chicken coop

Of course the article in today's Wall Street Journal titled For Sale: Condo W/Chicken Coop caught my eye.

We'll be purchasing our Eglu this week for the girls to move into at the end of the month, and I've got all-things-chicken-coop on the brain.

I'd clicked through to the article thinking it'd be about Urban Chicken farming, but instead it's talking about a new trend where developers are teaming up with small-scale working farms to get city slickers to live greener while not giving up the comforts of the city.

Caveat for prospective buyers in the article:
For city folks, moving to a farm can require some adjustment. Such projects generally have small-scale organic agriculture, such as vegetable fields, chicken coops or a limited number of cattle. Residents must be willing to accept the rumble of tractors, natural grasses instead of a manicured front lawn and land-management activities, such as an annual "prairie burn" in which surrounding fields are set afire to rid them of nonnative species. They may also have to deal with the smells from the chicken coop.
Here's an idea, why not bring the farm to you? Plant a vegetable garden (in containers if you have to), get an Eglu and a couple chooks, and participate in a CSA . All the benefits of living on/near a farm without any of the caveats above. Give it a try!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

the golden rules of raising chickens

I've recently made a new acquaintance named Ashis, a fellow poultry-raiser who happens to live in Chad. (Follow along on his Bahai Beach blog)

He reassured me that chickens are remarkably easy to handle and he shared with me his golden rules for raising chooks:

  1. As one of my Mexican friends revealed the most important secrets: Sing for them every morning... They really like it and in no time eggs will be piling up.
  2. Consistency, chooks are birds of habit. Here in Chad whenever bombing takes place I need to nurture their bruised souls. I gather your life in a city is slightly calmer in the US but you never know. Cars & boisterous neighbors influence the mental state of mind
  3. Foods, only the best will do!
  4. Spacious area so the pecking order does not get out of control
I've noticed our chicks respond to Left Coast Mom in a more accepting manner than they do to me, and I think it's because she sings to the birds at night (but don't tell her I told you).

I'll take these rules to heart, and embrace the way Ashis signed his note:
May you be flooded in eggs.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

chickens and genetics and plans, oh my

Thanks to StatCounter (my blog metrics tool), I discovered someone had linked through to a post on my other blog (HVY TK) from last May.

And wouldn't you know, it's about chickens. More specifically, a reminiscent post about the Bull Run Mountain Vegetable Farm CSA we belonged to back in Virginia and the proprietor's own blog post about the USDA's (un)wise decision on how to deal with Avian Flu striking the commercial chicken industry. If you're too lazy to click on your own, it's a lesson on how to dilute the gene pool by way of exterminating small-flocks farms (those would be my hens) instead of the caged birds in the food manufacturing chain. If this doesn't smack of lobbying prowess by Big Ag, I don't know what does.

Speaking of genetic diversity, in my blog surfing last night, I came across the Liberty Farms blog (they bought 15 Barred Rock chicks as meat birds) and this curious entry:
The broiler chicks have been our biggest disappointment. Eight of them have either died or had to be put down because their legs simply gave out. It's not all that uncommon to see older birds hobbling around because their legs no longer support their fast growing bodies but these chicks are barely a week old. My friend recently told me that all her turkeys and geese from the same hatchery died within twelve hours of being brought home. I wonder if the hatchery is having some quality problems with their breeding stock genetics.
Now that's a concern I didn't think I'd need worry about. Hopefully our hatchery is keen on keeping the gene pool diverse so that Sophia and ZsuZsu aren't hobbled.

Monday, May 14, 2007

two weeks into chicken farming

week three We've now officially turned the corner and are heading into our third week as chicken farmers.

When I first brought the chicks home two weeks ago, I was worried I'd be able to keep up with the twice-daily feeding/watering/cleaning schedule, but so far I haven't missed a one.

I was also concerned that for some reason or another I wouldn't be able to tell the girls apart, but they've got enough of a personality split that I can easily tell that ZsuZsu is going to be the chief bug catcher while Sophia will be the one to follow behind hoping there's some leftover scraps.

Another nice side effect to owning the chickens is that I now notice more and more birds everywhere I go. I'm sure all these birds have been around me the whole time, but I'm definitely more aware of my surroundings, and I'm happy to notice we've got a lot of birds that play around our backyard even when the chicks aren't out scratching in the mulch.

We're still a week away from ordering our Eglu from the Omlet folks, and wouldn't you know, I see there's now an Eglu Cube out that can hold up to ten birds. Granted, that's only in the UK, but I imagine its only a matter of time before the Cube shows up state side.

Can't wait to see what week 3 has in store for us.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

comparing chick sizes

ZsuZsu in the foreground, hunting bugs
Thanks to the "barredrock" tag on Flickr, I'm backing off my original assessment that the chicks are older than claimed by the Feed store from which we bought them.

Take a look at Cafe Mama's picture of her Barred Rock named "Twitter" and you can see what a four-week-old chick looks like.

Compare that with pictures of ZsuZsu and Sophia taken yesterday, and I'd say our girls are still a few days shy of four weeks.

Glad to see all the folks out there raising chicks of their own!

chicks outdoors for the first time

We took the girls out to the backyard yesterday to let them out into the yard, uncaged, for the first time.

They had a ball scratching the mulch and looking for edibles.

Hannah spent a lot of time picking flowers to give to the chicks (they ignored them much to Hannah's consternation).

Charlotte actually spent a lot of time petting the chicks, which is a milestone in and of itself because up until now, Charlotte had shown interest in the chicks until they came close and then she'd shy away.

The short video below shows Left Coast Mom helping Charlotte "hold" ZsuZsu, albeit briefly.

(note: this is the third try to make the video appear. I decided to take it into iMovie and add a title and compress the ever-loving heck out of it before uploading to YouTube.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

poultry trivia at its finest

I could spend hours (already have spent hours) reading through trivia about chickens.

My favorite resource of poultry trivia so far is the The Poultry Guide -- A to Z and FAQs which is based on a domain out of the UK, but I'd assume the trivia applies on this side of the Pond.

Tidbits I appreciate so far:
  • Hens do 2/3 of their droppings at night
  • When chick feathers start to drop between 10 and 12 weeks, new, sharply pointed and shiny male plumage will be noticed on the backs of the males. (yes, I'm still concerned we have a cockerel in our midst)
  • The legs and feet of males are larger. (doh! see previous post about foot size; one of our chicks has feet much bigger than the other)
  • One Large egg contains 213 mg cholesterol
What are your favorites?

these chicks got some huge feet

facing this way and that way

Holy Smokes, I'm glad I don't have to buy shoes for these things... they'd outgrow them in a day.

How do I put this delicately? There's no way around it: these chicks have enormous feet. If they were little people, I'd expect them to have large Adam's Apples, to boot.

As I was going through the morning ritual of cleaning out the chicks' cage and refreshing food and water, Sophia fluttered up out of the cage to roost on top of it, mere inches from my face. It was at that moment I realized just how huge her feet had gotten in the last couple days (all the better to roost with, my dear!)

I got flashbacks to when Argus (our Great Dane) was just a puppy and how big his feet were in proportion to the rest of his body. He's now grown into his feet (all 150 pounds of him), and I'd expect the chickens will be doing much the same... only topping out at seven pounds, not 150.

Amazing to see how fast these little buggers are getting bigger.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

chicks getting real big and moving on up

Seeing how quick the chicks grow, I can't believe that Big Ag supplements the food for their chickens so they grow even faster than ours. It's starting to sink in just how big these girls will be in just a couple more months. Hard to believe they were inside an egg just three weeks ago.

And the chicks have outgrown their first home-made brooder already.

I thought we'd be able to keep them in the 10-gallon fish tank (with a screened-lid) for the rest of the month, but with our sudden heat wave, there just wasn't enough circulation in the tank for them to keep cool enough.

Funny that my biggest concern was getting them enough heat by way of the infra-red lamp, and now we're faced with their being overheated.

So Mel went to the local Feed & Supply store (San Mateo Pet Supply over on El Camino Real) and picked up a wire bunny cage yesterday and moved the girls in before the day got hot yesterday.

And wouldn't you know, the chicks actually look like they sprouted up another inch in all directions last night.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

and the chicks have names

According to Hannah, the chicks are named Sophia and ZsuZsu.

Still trying to figure out which chick is which (Hannah keeps changing her mind).

Pictures to come once she settles in on which one is Sophia, and the pictures will be good ones now that the girls are comfortable roosting on the side of their brooder.

UPDATE: we're still trying to nail down the appropriate way to spell Z's name

Friday, May 4, 2007

chick personalities growing

The chicks are becoming a lot less hand shy than at the beginning of the week. They no longer huddle in the far corner when I reach in to transfer from their brooder to the temporary holding box for the twice-daily cleanings of the brooder. I can now hold my hand at floor-level and they'll come over and hop on for the ride.

While changing out their cage this evening, one of the chicks hopped up on my forearm and just perched there, checking out the room, sizing me up and down... just hanging out. For the first time, I was able to appreciate just how delicate featured she is: the fuzzy head, her black-and-white striped plumage coming in, her curious swiveling of her head as she scoped things out.

Given how easily she perched, I'm thinking it might be time to put in something for them to roost on besides the food dispenser, especially if they're as old as I'm thinking they are.

I suspect our chicks might be older than the folks at Half Moon Bay Food & Fuel let on... pictures I've seen of Barred Rock chicks show smaller specimens at 9 days than our girls were when we brought them home. I'm thinking we might be closer to 3.5 weeks than the supposed two weeks we're coming up on per the sellers.

I've found that Mississippi State has some great (but dry) material on how to raise healthy chickens, and as I discover other worthy resources, I'll be sure to share them here.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

how to raise your chicks

These are the instructions given out via a photocopy of a hand-written page to all first-time chick buyers from the folks at Half Moon Bay Feed & Fuel

Chicks need: Feed, water, heat, light & space

1 day to 8 weeks:
  • chick starter (20-22% protein)
8 weeks to 20 weeks:
  • laying crumble (15-17% protein)
  • chick grit
  • chick scratch
20 weeks and older:
  • laying crumble (15-17% protein)
  • chick grit
  • chick scratch
  • oyster shell

Chicks should have fresh water at all times and should drink out of a chick waterer to prevent drowning

Heat, light and Space:
The temperature in the center of the cage should be 90 degrees the first week. Reduce the temperature 5 degrees per week until you get to 70 degrees. Then they shouldn't need any more heat. Make sure they have enough space in their cage to get away from the heat should they become too warm. We believe a heat lamp and a wire cage is the best way to provide heat, light and space for your chicks.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

chicks growing before our eyes

Conceptually, I understand that in order for a chick to break out of its egg and become a seven-pound hen in four months, there's got to be an amazing rate of growth day in and day out.

Practically, I had no idea I'd literally be able to see the difference day over day.

I attributed the noticeable growth from Day 1 at our house to Day 2 as a simple matter of "they're just walking around the brooder bigger because they're more comfortable now that they've spent a night in their new home."

I can't attribute comfort-with-surroundings for the now-noticeable ridge of bumps that will eventually become the comb (cf this chicken anatomy illustration). They weren't there on Day 1.

I'm also starting to notice a difference in size between the two chicks, and I'm hoping that's just a genetic difference between the two pullets and not the early signs that I've got a "brother and sister" instead of two sisters. Stand by!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

avoiding mass-marketed feed-based medications for chicks

Lay or Bust brand poultry feeds

When I was in Half Moon Bay Feed & Fuel yesterday, I saw a little tear-off advertising pad nailed to the wall next to all the chicks for sale. Since it was the only full-color flyer-esque thing in the otherwise drab corner of the room, I tore off a sheet and stuffed it in my pocket for later consumption. Part of what caught my eye was the logo "START 'EM RIGHT!" and a picture of two adorable little chicks.

A quick scan of the flyer showed tips on environment (keep it clean, keep it dry), space requirements (no crowding allowed), temperature (avoid the big chill) and water (whet their whistles). Good stuff for reading deeper later.

After I got home, I finally read the two-sided flyer to discover the handy chick-raising info is courtesy Purina Mills and their SunFresh Recipe livestock foods. What caught my eye was Purina Mills' suggestion that backyard egg producers (like my two chicks) be given Purina's Start & Grow® formula which is a medicated formula crafted specifically for chicks. Wow... my first brush with choosing to move away from the practices of Big Ag with my little flock.

Now, as part of my research, I'd read Barbara Kilarski's great book, Keep Chickens and one of the things she points out is that with a small flock (less than four birds), providing medicated feed isn't as important as with a larger flock where there's less room for the hens and therefore a greater chance of communicable something-or-other. I want my hens to live healthy, eat healthy and be healthy so that the eggs they produce are nice and nutritious for us as a family. Somehow adding medication to the food at the get-go feels very contrary to this approach.

So, for now, we're staying away from the medicated stuff. Hopefully for good.

My biggest worry in the next few weeks will be finding out if I hit the "you beat the 20-1 odds and got the cockerel that slipped through the sexing process" jackpot. One of our chicks seems to be getting bigger faster than the other one... and the bright patch on top of her (his?) head seems bigger than the other ones (sometimes a sign of a cockerel). We shall see...


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