Friday, August 31, 2007

on clipping chicken wings

Given how high and how far the girls can fly across the back yard, I think we're about due to clip their wings.

Having butchered my share of chicken carcasses bought at the store (the cold, featherless kind), I'd been under the impression clipping the wings was actually a rather gruesome task: taking out the wing at the last joint.

Imagine my relief when I found out "clipping wings" is simply shorthand for "cutting short the long feathers at the end of the wing"... about as painful as cutting one's hair.


Researching a bit further, I see that I really only have to clip the feathers on one of their wings, and that throws them off balance enough that they can't get any height or distance before dropping to the ground again on the clipped side of their body.

So, the outstanding question for me and my girls is:
  • do I clip the wing on the same side for both chooks? visions of them vainly attempting to fly, going side by side around the same futile circle, or
  • do I clip the wing on the opposite side of each chook? visions of them crashing into each other mid-flight, or veering out in opposite directions only to come together again in a puff of feathers
I'll have to meditate on this one a bit...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

the chickens escaped the yard!

We live in a part of the country that gets hot during the day and cool at night, so we sleep with our windows open to take advantage of this natural A/C. A side benefit:I wake up each morning to the sound of birds chirping and dogs barking and chickens clucking.

I woke up this morning to the sound of a couple of unhappy chickens in the backyard. They weren't making an agitated "get me the heck out of here" sound, but they were clearly voicing their displeasure at being cooped up for some reason.

Before anyone else in the house could wake up, I stole downstairs and outside to let the girls do a bit of free-ranging in the backyard before I went to work. They were more than happy to get out and showed their joy by stretching their legs with a lap around the backyard before settling into the seek-and-eat formation of side-by-side examination of every square foot of organic material for greens and bugs. We've got tall fences on all sides, so I'm not concerned about their flying into any neighbor's yards (tho I should clip their wings soon). The only way they could conceivably get out of the yard would be to go down a long narrow side yard to the cast iron gate and squeeze under it. In three months of free-rangings, they've never even attempted to start down that yard, let alone make it to the gate.

So I thought nothing of leaving the girls out back and going inside to shower, eat, etc, putting them in the coop on my way to work.

Imagine my surprise when Left Coast Mom returned from walking our daughter to Kindergarten to find the chickens in our front yard. Yep, they made the long walk up to the gate and scooted right under it to start poking around the driveway. Luckily, they seemed too dazed by the fact there's a whole 'nother WORLD out front to try and escape further. With a couple swoops of the arm, Left Coast Mom herded them back under the gate and into the back yard. I used some fresh lettuce leaves to coax them into the Eglu run and they've been cooped up all day (that I know of).

Now, I'll have to craft a movable fence to keep them from repeating their escape next time they free range. I hate to think I'll have to supervise them closely from here on out.

I'll have to watch Chicken Run again to see what's next up in their plans for the great escape.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

the girls and their stage fright

I'm hoping this isn't a sign of performance anxiety to come, but the girls exhibited what can only be described as stage fright yesterday when asked to continue their incessant clucking so someone could record the sound.

Early yesterday morning, I'd been on a phone interview about what it's like to raise chickens in my backyard (details to come) and I was sitting next to the run so as to capture the ambient noise of the girls clucking in the background. The girls were SO noisy, I actually had to move a little ways away from the run so I could hear the questions being asked of me. When the Q&A was over, I agreed to hold the phone by the run so they could tape just the sound of their clucking.

Wouldn't you know it, the moment I stopped talking and held the phone out, the girls effectively shut up. I tried waving the phone around to elicit a response, and the girls just stared at me, blinking, wondering what kind of spell I was trying to cast on them. I looked away hoping they'd cluck to get my attention.

No luck.

After waiting about 30 seconds, I put the phone back up to my ear to apologize for the lack of sound and the chorus of clucks once again rang out loud. ::sigh::

Now you know why I haven't told the girls we're hoping to get some eggs out of them starting in a couple weeks. I don't want them to feel any pressure whatsoever, because I'm sure they'll find a way to put it off as long as possible if there's any expectations lingering out there for delivery.

(Shhhhh... I still hope we'll have our first egg by Labor Day)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

the nesting habit is deeply ingrained

I went out to check on the girls tonight and found that they had once again pushed aside the chicken wire that Thomas used to block the nesting box. ZsuZsu was actually trapped behind it, peeping away as if she were still a wee little chick. After I offered her a few grapes, she was able to squeeze around the wire and hop out into the run.

After popping off the side of the Eglu, I reached in to move the wire back into the nesting box. This did not go over well with the girls, who protested loudly, as if to berate me for ruining all of their hard work. I scooted them out the door and tried again.

The wire was nicely seated in the nesting box until ZsuZsu came back in. I watched through the opened side of the Eglu as she wiggled and squirmed her way into the box, half nestled under the wire. They are definitely not fans of the roost.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

perils of free-ranging the chooks

I know I haven't posted in awhile (ok, only once), but ZsuZsu gave me quite a scare last night, so I thought I'd share.

I had just picked a zucchini and was readying it for the grill when ZsuZsu, ever curious, hopped up on the shelf at the front of the grill to see what I was doing. And to look for scraps, no doubt. At that point the grill had been on for at least 10 minutes and was at about 500 degrees.

So I freaked and tried to shoo her off.

She returned the freak-out and fluttered onto the handle of the grill cover.

I don't know if it was shock at the heat, or if she was just being stubborn, but she refused to get down. I actually had to push her pretty hard to get her to move--all the while yelling, "Oh my god! Get off of there! Get off!"

I can only imagine what the neighbors were thinking.

ZsuZsu seemed fine once she finally hopped down--just before Sophia joined her on the handle--but she wouldn't let me look at her feet. Go figure. I can only hope that my repeated assurances that she's just not that type of chicken, combined with some memory of the heat, will convince her to stay away from the grill next time.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

breaking the nesting habit is hard

I went out to the coop this morning to find the girls had physically pushed aside the chicken wire cylinder that had been blocking the nesting box. Evidently, some time between sunset last night and dawn this morning, the lure of the nesting box became to great to ignore and the new contraption was brutally pushed aside to make way.

And to top things off, the girls pooped in the bottom of the nesting box to make sure I knew it was their own doing.

Will have to reinforce it in place tonight. I think I can use the vent holes at the top of the Eglu to anchor the cylinder in place.

I'm not giving up yet!

Monday, August 20, 2007

eating local: a fo(odometer) video

Saw this three-minute video today and thought I'd share it here. They don't have any statistics regarding the food-miles cost of eggs, but I'm betting eggs are a rather expensive item to consume in terms of energy used to produce an egg on one's table.

Happy to know we'll be eating our own home-grown huevos in short order!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

keeping chooks out of the nesting box

finished project thru the run bars As I've posted before, my chickens like to sleep in the nesting box that's built into our Eglu.

Since they're not laying eggs yet, I've never put any nesting material in there (pine shavings... all the better to compost with) to encourage them to spend time in the box. It seems they've just developed an affinity for sleeping off the roosting bars.

Having read you can put a golf ball in the nesting box to discourage time in the box, I tried to crowding the girls out by putting one of Argus's (our Great Dane) big chew balls in the box. It's about the size of a bowling ball, made of some indestructible polymer and has a nice big handle on it. It takes up maybe half the nesting box, and whenever I've peeked in to see if the girls are roosting on the bars instead of huddling in the box, I see they've wedged themselves into the remaining space next to the chew ball, bound and determined to enjoy that durn box.

cylindrical blocker with roosting bars in place Now that we're thisclose to time of lay, I've decided to break the girls of the nesting box habit by completely blocking access to it by way of a cylinder made of chicken wire (as seen on the right).

My first attempt hadn't been so much a cylinder as just a little basketball-sized sphere of chicken wire. When I saw how much room there was between the top of the wire and the inside of the Eglu ceiling, I had visions of the girls cramming themselves up in that space just to stay off the roosting bars. So, I ran the cylinder up to the ceiling in hopes they'll finally get accustomed to spending the night on the roosting bars and using the nesting box for, well, nesting long enough to lay an egg.

I wonder do other first-time chicken farmers go through this same "nope-not-gonna-roost" phase? or have I been blessed simply because my girls refused to practice perching in their brooder box?

Regardless, I'll be leaving the cylinder in the nesting box for at least ten days (arbitrary, I know, but seems like it's long enough for the girls to break a bad habit and start a good one.

Maybe if enough first-timers have this same roosting problem, the nice folks at Eglu could create a custom-fit module that blocks the box? In the mean time, I'm happy to share the instructions with anyone who'd like to create their own chicken wire cylinder.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

properly feeding our chickens

As we approach the arrival of our first eggs, I'm starting to do research about changing the feed of our girls to best support their egg laying efforts.

At our local feed store, there are five bins of chicken food. All are available in 50 pound bags, but until we get into the egg-laying stage, I won't be buying in bulk:
  1. starter (don't need it anymore)
  2. chick scratch (what we're giving them now)
  3. hen scratch (for post-egg-laying years?)
  4. Layena(R) mash (for egg-laying hens, and suggested as a good iguana food, too!)
  5. Layena(R) crumble (crumbled quasi-pelletized versions of the mash)
In my quest for more detail on what to get (mash or crumble), I discovered a Geocities-hosted page from the (no defunct) Chicken Encyclopedia's page on Feeding.

Advice is given on what to feed the chicks weeks 0-4 and post week 18 but nothing in the middle. However, I found this section on scratch (what we're feeding the girls now):

Keep in mind once you start feeding them scratch or cracked corn you also need to add a supply of grit for digestion. As you have guessed chickens do not have teeth, without getting to technical, the grit is stored in the chickens gizzard and as the food they eat passes through the gizzard it is ground up.

A good way to check out the gizzard is after you have given you new chickens grit pick one of them up the next day and feel the base of her neck, you should feel a lumpy pocket that is the gizzard.
Uh oh. The girls have been on scratch for a good 8 weeks now (or more) and I've yet to give them any scratch. They've continued to grow quick as a, um, chicken, so I think they're getting the nutrients they need. They must be picking up all the grit they need in their free ranging the yard (I hope!). I'll be getting grit for them asap, though.

Another interesting thing I noticed on that same Feeding page was the following caution (in an annoying blink style font held over from 1995):
The things chickens should NEVER get:

Large amounts of salt, raw potato peels, chocolate

and the biggest NO NO of all do not ever feed beans of any kind to a chicken (they can't expel the gas and it will get ugly so please do not try it)

Oh, I'll be switching the girls to a laying feed once the first egg comes out. Still haven't decided which brand yet (will keep you posted)

Thursday, August 9, 2007

yellow legs and roosting issues

The Left Coast Mom pointed out tonight that our girls' legs are getting quite yellow. From past readings (although I can't find these readings at the moment), yellow legs can indicate they're getting close to laying their first eggs. Could it be our first eggs are coming sooner than Labor Day? It still feels rather early, but you never know.

The concern this brings to mind most forcefully is that I now have to deal with their roosting habit sooner than later. Both girls just love to bed down in the nesting box of our Eglu instead of on the perching bars.

I've tried placing a soccer ball in the nesting box to crowd them out (they didn't seem to care that there was a tennis ball in there), to no avail. They simply wedge themselves in the remaining space around the soccer ball, as if the perching bars are made of molten lava instead of pine.

I feel like this is partly due to my not teaching them to perch while they were still indoors in the cage. Ugh.

Any suggestions from those who've dealt with this behavior before would be greatly appreciated: how do I get the girls to perch on the bars instead of squat in the box?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

reading Weinberger to Sophia

Sophia helping me read After work tonight, I went out to the back yard to let the girls free range a bit and do some reading.

After a chapter's worth of reading David Weinberger's Everything Is Miscellaneous (very highly recommended, btw), Sophia decided I'd spent enough alone time and hopped up on the arm of the chair so she could peer at the words with me.

After looking between my face and the open book a few times, she decided she'd had enough and hopped off to go look for more juicy bugs in the yard with ZsuZsu.

Miscellaneous, indeed.

Monday, August 6, 2007

my how the chicks have grown

I think the girls have put on a couple pounds in the last ten days I've been away. I can definitely see evidence of growth both in their girth as well as in the size of their combs. Still waiting for their wattles to form in earnest, however, as they're still just hints of a fold of skin where human "cheeks" would be (are there such things as chicken cheeks?). Hard to believe they'll be laying eggs in a month's time.

From the feel of it, the girls also seem to have grown a bit more short-tempered at being cooped up in the run all day. When I reach for the door in the run to let them out today, Sophia gave me a nice peck on the finger. Not enough to break the skin, but enough to smart a bit. Perhaps it was the fistful of grapes I had? Nah... she's just letting me know I was gone too long.

So, on my trip up to Oregon, I saw evidence of chickens in most of the small towns (pop < 1,500) I rode through, but the only time I really saw chickens was one morning after waking up from camping in Cherry Creek/"Ham" Bunch County Park outside Coquille. Well before dawn (talking 5:30a, here) the roosters in the backyard next to the park started to crow, waking me up from a deep sleep. After another couple hours of their crowing, the owner sauntered out into the yard and over to the chicken run.

He opened the door and quicker than you could say "look at all those chickens!" there were a good dozen chickens sprinting in as many different directions out into the yard. From what I could see, the backyard flock consisted of equal parts bantam and regular chickens... and while I'm not expert, I know I saw some Plymouth Rocks, some Rhode Island Reds and a couple Australorps. As I was busy watching the chickens sprint to their piece of the yard, the owner was busy collecting eggs inside the coop, and when we finally started walking back to the house, I swear he had ten or so beautiful eggs in his hands. He was too far away for me to call out and get his attention, and in any case, I felt a little awkward at being so overjoyed to watch someone collect eggs from his backyard. Shortly after the egg collection was carried into the house, I'd packed my motorcycle and was gone for the day's ride.

Can't wait until my own mornings are filled with fresh eggs.

While I'm waiting, though, I was pleased to find this little video gem (courtesy BoingBoing) showing Petaluma Poultry girls making a huge omelet back in 1932.


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