Sunday, May 20, 2012

Our Chicken Littles

     We had been preparing for it all year long.  I read about chicks, chickens, & coops for over a year.  I drew up a plan and we made a coop and run from mostly re-purposed materials.  I compared breeds and the day finally arrived.   Our chicks came in the mail on May 1st.  They were hatched on April 29th and were mailed out on the 30th.  This was a first on all levels for us (mail-order chicks & chicks in general).  We had a casualty on route.  The postmaster called me when they arrived and one was already dead.  It was sad for us.  We named him Fred & buried him over our 2 dog's graves. 
     I had ordered specific breeds based on temperament, egg-laying rate, & confinement ability.  I chose one of each:  Red Star hen, Rhode Island Red hen, Easter Egger hen, & Golden-Laced Wyandotte hen & rooster (they were my favorites).  The Wyandottes were the ones on back order and caused the entire shipment to take 2 months.  Well, it was one of the Wyandottes that was dead...male or female?  That was the question.  There are a few producers that ship with orders of <25 chicks and is the one we chose to use.  They were very nice about refunding the chick fee, but I really wanted another chick.  The shipping is express & not cheap and there is a 4 chick minimum.  I do not think my husband wants to get 4 more just yet.  We need to see how we do with these before doubling our order. 
     When they were about 1 week old I watched some videos on how to sex them by their wings* and I "think" it was the rooster that passed.  I also read that this was best seen within 3 days of hatching...oh well.  We will see or "hear" in about 2 or 3 more weeks.  I think he must have been bragging about his little love plans for the girls & they decided that they were not going to have any of it!  I hope it was a quick death.
*Sexing chicks by wing tips:  The wing tip of a male has one row & the female has a double row of feathers.
Here are our girls on the day of their arrival:

3 days old & first hours home were in a box.

3 days old 1st night home in my shower.  I gave them a bigger place to roam.
     They were so fragile.  My husband's favorite is the Easter Egger Cleo (since she resembles Cleopatra).  Miss Goldy is the Red Star (blonde chick) and Ruby is the Rhode Island Red.  We were not sure what to call the Wyandotte (the black one), for she had not really shown us her personality yet.  I think Lacey may be her name.  Only time will tell.  They really do not have their grown-up colors at this time.  They will not resemble themselves at all when fully feathered.

 Here are a few pictures of their growth and boy, have they grown.
9 days old with 1st feathers.

The beginnings of a tail

     At 2 weeks old we finished sealing the inside of the coop with wire cloth or rabbit wire to prevent snakes from entering at night.  I was scared the 1st few nights, but they made it through.  I still use the heat lamp at night since they do not have total coverage of feathers yet.  But it is very hot in the daytime, so I open up their windows for ventilation and they are just fine.  I still have a little to do to secure the run's cover from hawk attacks, but one good day's worth of labor ought to finish it up. 
     Today marks their 21st day birthday and I took some shots.  I am seeing just how dirty chickens are.  Since I work in healthcare, you could say we are a bit germ a-phobic.  It is a good thing I am tending to them...cause I do not think my husband would ever eat chicken or eggs again if he tended the coop.  Now that they are big enough to explore the second floor of their coop and take their mess with them, I went ahead & threw down some paper & shavings to try to keep it clean until cleaning day.  (I was not planning on cleaning it out for a few more days. 
     One of the girls was downstairs & missed out on the chance to claim her bed.  The other 3 jumped on it & gave her the one on the end.
Checking out the view

 Cleo, you snooze, you lose, girl.
Cleo chillin' solo at the buffet


     I was tickled to see Ms. Goldy already utilizing the lower roost, but I only saw her through the window & could not get a shot of it.  The upper 3 were enjoying a nice view out the back...while Cleo was still wandering around downstairs.  Maybe she was taking a break from all of the chatter.
     I think they are in an awkward growing phase with their feathers...they aren't cute and fuzzy anymore, yet they do not have all of their big-girl feathers yet.  They kinda look like kids do when they are losing baby teeth and growing their permanent teeth.  I still think they are beautiful though.  I intend on finishing the run next week and we will get to let them out on the ground and watch them peck and scratch the ground.  That will be fun.  Maybe I will get a glimpse into their pecking order and real personalities then.
     Right now, none of them seem to dominate all the time.  Since we lost our rooster, I would like to add 1 or 2 more hens into the mix before they get big.  I think I have decided against getting a rooster for now.  I am looking for docile breeds that me & my daughter can handle that lay well and can stand to be confined in a run that is 10X20.  I may let them free range while I clean it out every once in a while for pest control (when they are larger), but we are in the wide open country with owls and hawks, so those times will have to be limited to when I can keep an eye on them.
     I introduced grass clippings to them this week.  At first they thought I was "bombing" them and ran to hide from it.  But when I checked on them the next morning it was all gone, although they did not touch the radish or turnip leaves.  We are learning more and more every day about homesteading & one day would like to have a larger plot and include a few goats into the family.  I would love to make some homemade cheese from our very own critters.  Since a dairy cow is way out of the budget for now, we will have to start with goats (partly to mow & partly to milk).  I am loving this multipurpose function of farm animals.  If I had known how well birds worked at keeping down the yard's insect population, I would have done this long ago. 
     Thank the Lord for the internet.  I know that there is a lot of negativity on it, but when accessed responsibly, it can be quite beneficial.  If it were not for the instant information age that we have now, I would still be in the dark about many of the wonderful blessing that we have from homesteading.  I would have to spend money on books to tell me how to garden, make soap & crafts, & raise animals.  I would still be wasting money on store-bought goods that I can make easily at home.
     Please leave any tips on caring for my newest members of the Breland family or other homesteading subjects.  Now that summer is in full swing, I hope to have more time to catch up on soap-making and find a decent pickle recipe.  Every recipe that I have tried making has been absolutely horrible.  I have had awesome homemade pickles, but not know the recipe...Share people!  I do not want to waste my precious homegrown cucumbers on another bad recipe. 
     I have battled stink bugs & slugs this season in my garden.  Every veggie that makes it is a blessing!  The diatomaceous earth has been the biggest help.  I have a few dollars in pennies thrown out there also.  Now, that one puzzled my husband:)  The diatomaceous earth will be great for my hens & my garden too.  See...multipurpose!  Also, my compost has started to is turning black & breaking down.  I added chicken bedding and I can hardly wait to see how that will help in the garden.  I think I need to make a 2nd bin (1 for new & 1 for almost done).  I am looking forward to this year's harvest so I can share.  Happy homesteading & God bless,
Marla B.