An Egg! An Egg!

Oh, how I waited and waited for the day my baby chicks would have eggs.  I don’t think anyone purchases chicks and doesn’t dream of the eggs that come with them.  I even put a countdown on the blog page after the chicks arrived to keep in focus the bounty to come.   I estimated they would come August 18th (my mom’s birthday) and watched and waited for signs.   The chickens were all getting bigger but Stretch was noticeably more mature.   Her comb was much larger than the others and her wattles much bigger.  They also were bright red compared to the pink and light red features of her flock mates.   Yes, Stretch will be the first to lay an egg.

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August 18th came and went and it wasn’t until August 22nd, that the first egg came.   It was so cute and precious.   I knew I would be excited but it was even better than any Christmas morning I have on memory.   I couldn’t even lift it out the nesting box.

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Instead, I ran inside yelling to the kids that the day was here.   Since Stretch was Brady’s chicken, I let him have the honors of taking the egg out of the nesting box.   He was a little wary at first but who can blame him.  Not only did he not want to break it, he also knew enough of chicken anatomy to know where that egg came from.   We brought it into the house and cradled it in a thick dishtowel excited to call grandmas and grandpas, friends and neighbors with the great news.

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I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from Stretch in the next few weeks.  She was a hybrid chicken born to lay lots and lots of eggs.   But since she was a newbie, would they come almost every day?   Would they all be  small or will they get larger in size?  Here is what our little brown egg looks like compared to a Grade AA large egg.

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Granted, she is not a large chicken and I don’t expect dinosaur eggs but could they get bigger?   I may not know what to expect in the next few weeks but I at least know it includes eggs!

 

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Hatsy

Hatsy has quickly became my favorite chicken.  I love everything about her.   When we drew up our short list of chicken breeds she was on the top 6 but not in my original order of 4 from Meyer Hatchery .   When we found out our county was voting on zoning and it would more than likely be at least 6, we added a Buff Orpington and Barred Rock to the order of a  Cochin, Australorp, Easter Egger, and Golden Buff.   The Barred Rock was Hatsy.   The main reason she was added to the order was because of our love for Lucy from the book Once Upon a Flock by Lauren Scheuer.  Jordan loved that book – especially Hatsy, the Golden Buff chicken, and all of her funny antics.   She said we had to have a “Lucy” in our flock and when we ordered a Barred Rock like Lucy, she named it Hatsy after her favorite character.

uoaf                            hatsy

I was nervous from the day Hatsy arrived that she was a rooster.   She was always rushing towards my hand when it came into the brooder when the rest ran away.  She even liked to help me work on my computer.

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Her curiousity of everything still continues today.   She is always looking at me cock eyed with her head at a tilt when I am tinkering around the coop.   If I shut the coop door so I can clean it or add something, she will jump onto the front porch bar to peek at what I am doing through the window.

7 wk barred rock

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She knows when I come to the coop I usually bring tasty weeds, raisins, or things from my garden so she will follow me around in the coop run when I walk around the yard.   If I choose to sit on the bench swing to watch them, she will sometimes pace in front of the door like she is wondering when I am coming into the coop to visit.      She is always at my feet when I am in the run.

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It is not uncommon for her to jump on my lap and she will always try to jump on my back if I bend over.  I know people think I am crazy that I love to see and spend time with my chickens but if they spent some time watching them, especially Hatsy, they would understand how fun and interesting their personalities can be.   She makes me look forward to the brief moments I have when I visit the coop.  Even if that means getting jumped on from behind when bending over.

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Science Fair

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With the end of school, softball, baseball, and swim camp, I have put off posting the outcome of my daughter, Jordan’s, science fair. We knew she had an end of the year science fair and that we were getting chicks so decided to find the perfect project to combine the two. We looked online and found projects but they did not seem to be a good fit for her.  One was where you feed one group regular chick feed and the other just corn.   That just didn’t seem like a healthy option. We didn’t want to deprive them of essential nutrients. The other option we found was testing their overhead predator instincts.  We would be essentially “scaring” them with fake predators to see their survival instincts. This one just sounded plain mean. We were raising chickens from chicks so they would be friendly. Not terrified of us. One thing we did know was that chicks grow FAST and we were getting 6 different breeds of chicks. Light bulb moment! Her hypothesis became: Do different breeds of chickens grow at the different rates?  Or as her title stated:  “Cock a Doodle Doo!  Which Chick Grew” IMG_3223

She’s so cute!  The hardest part was over.  Jordan started a month from her project deadline weighing all of the chicks on a small scale every 3 days or so. I was very impressed with her patience with weighing the chicks. Not all of them were very excited to stand still on a strange metal platform. The chicks were split down the middle on their willingness to stay still on the scale. Some froze as soon as their feet touched the scale and others we had to corral with our hands and give our best weight guess based on the bouncing numbers.

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So what was the results?! Jordan won first prize! (She is sooo not cooperating with me here)

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Oh, what was the result of her study? She concluded that different breeds do grow at different rates.  But, not exactly in the way she expected. The heavier breeds did gain the most weight but we were surprised that one of the smallest breeds, the Golden Buff, had the highest percentage of growth. So, even though she didn’t weigh the most like the heavier Australorp or Orpington, she actually grew the fastest based on her starting weight.

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Here are some other pictures from her poster board display:

Data from her project

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Pictures of how each chick grew during the month time period (Sammy and Captain are featured below)

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She did such a great job and I was so proud of how well she carried out her research.  Next year Brady will be in 4th grade and participate in the science fair. What project can we do with one year old chickens?

An Unlikely Aficionado and The Power of Chicken Math

Lately, I have noticed that Pete has taken an extra “liking” to the chickens.   When I say extra I mean that he doesn’t complain about them.  The dogs are another story.   I know exactly where he stands with our dogs.   He tolerates them because the kids and I wanted them.  He isn’t a dog person and doesn’t hide the fact that they are not his favorite members of our family.   When we went to the rescue agency to look at a puppy born into rescue, we ended up coming home with two puppies.  He was not immune to the cuteness of puppies and ok’d both instead of one -a decision he will shake his head at frequently.      However, under his tough guy exterior, I think he may actually like the dogs from time to time.  I will catch him petting Buster while sitting in his chair and wanting to give them gravy or scraps from dinner.   He will scowl when they go to the vet yet ask if I remembered to give Buster his pain medication after he had two teeth extracted.   He even wanted to build them a dog house outside.   Here is how that conversation went:

Pete: I should build a dog house for the dogs

Me:  Our dogs!?   But they never go outside unless they need to go the bathroom

Pete:  I could build that one house that you pinned on Pinterest.

(Here is a picture of the mentioned dog house)

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Me:  (too shocked to speak because he remembers what is on my Pinterest site.   I finally snap out of it)   That house on Pinterest is amazing but Buster would use it to jump over the 6 foot wooden fence and have a dog’s day out.   No, the dogs wouldn’t use it.   Build onto the pool deck instead.

Pete:  Unrecognizable grumbling    (shaking head, walks away)

I think building a coop was most of the appeal to getting chickens.   The beautiful coop he built all by himself – well and some occasional help from his dad and neighbor.  My first indication of his new found interest in our chicks was when he sat outside with me to watch the chicks in the run.   Then more things happened.   He came out to find Peaches when she was missing.   He keeps adding things to the coop for the chicks, I mean me.   This morning, he beat me outside to the coop to let the girls out into the run.   He also has been asking questions like, “How many chickens can we legally have out here again?”  and commented,  “We should get some rare breeds the next time we order chicks”.   Hmmm…..  Sounds like Pete has a case of chicken math.  What is chicken math?

Chicken math – [chik’-uhn math]  (noun) The phenomena in which no matter how many chickens you expect to own or for which you build your coop, you will end up with more than that number, even when you take into account chicken math

He even shocked me by saying we should order a German Spitzhauben.   How does he even  know this breed?   I looked at the Spitzhauben and saw a little resemblance from the chicken to…Buster our dog!   Look at the picture and you tell me

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They both are white with black splotches.  I think I may ask for the coop addition to add 4 chicks next year after all.   Or a “dog house” for Buster.  Out back.  Next to the coop.   With hardware cloth so the chicks, I mean Buster, stay safe.

Lost!

Friday night our family spent the evening watching our youngest play baseball – under the lights – for his first time.   I knew we would get back after dark and was kind of excited to see if all the chicks would go into the coop all by themselves to settle in for the night.   The past week or so I have had to catch all 6 and put them into the coop.  And when I say I, I mostly mean Jordan is doing it and I am working the door to keep them inside the coop.   Lately, I have noticed that they are finally “getting it” and understanding there is safety and warmth in the coop after dark.   We got home around 10pm and Jordan and I went back to check out the situation, crossing my fingers that all I would have to do was shut the pop up door to the coop and call it a night.   I did a quick glance in the run and saw nothing.   Hurray!!   They all went to the coop.   I opened the main door to the coop to check the inside temperature (Captain still does not have all her feathers) and did a quick head count.   1, 2, 3, 4, 5.   What?!   Sometimes when the black birds are close to each other they look like one so I better recount.  1, 2, 3, 4, 5.    I have 6 chicks!

By now, Jordan is looking worried and goes into the house for her dad.   I determined that Peaches was not accounted for so my search was for a fluffy, buff colored chick.   I scanned the run, looked under the ladder to the coop, got on my hands and knees to look in the run under the coop and still no chick.   Perplexed, I needed a new plan.   Could she have gotten out when I went into the coop today?   I really wasn’t in the coop except for the morning because we had a busy day of friends over for the kids.   Hmmm….   Did a predator breach our steadfast design?    Pete was now outside with a flash light and we checked around the coop for holes or breaks in the hardware cloth.   Nothing.   By this time, Riley is crying because Peaches is her chick and she is going on and on about how she needs another one.  After determining that nothing breached the run and there weren’t feather piles or blood in our yard (Thank goodness!), we opened the coop again for another look.   Pete flashed the flashlight around and hit the 6th set of eyes.   She was up in the eaves of the coop.

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I didn’t even think it was possible to roost up there.   I wasn’t sure if she was stuck up there or enjoyed it.  I love how Stretch is almost showing us where Peaches is.   I think she is trying to figure a way out to get up there too!   The mystery was solved, Pete moved her back down to the roosting bar and we all could go inside knowing we still had 6 chicks in the coop.  At least until the next time we “lose” a chick.

Roosting

I know that chickens and most birds for that matter like to roost to sleep.   I had made the girls a low roosting bar in their brooder to “practice” on, but,  I truly learned the importance and instinct they have to roost when they moved out to the coop and run.   I came out side one afternoon and saw this:

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They were jockeying for the highest spot on the ladder to the coop to take an afternoon nap.   Hmmm….  it may be time to install a roost bar.   I placed a board low in the run near the ladder to see if they would use it.   They did!    It was so cute to come outside and see them side by side resting in the sun.

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Stretch was the last to join the line up.   She kept trying to budge onto the bar until finally Oreo jumped off and she took that spot only to have Oreo squeeze back in.   I like how Sammy is standing up in the last picture.   It is like she is surveying the yard, making sure all is safe before she falls asleep.   I made Pete come and watch them roost and he agreed that it was time for a higher roost in the coop.    I originally wanted a ladder type design with a board underneath to catch their nightly poop (a “poop board”) to make cleaning out the poop easier and the coop cleaner.  It also would be nice for my chickens to decide what level they want to sleep at.  The heavier chickens can jump up to the top instead of fly up.  They can also then jump down the rungs – avoiding potential  injury to their feet.  Here is a design used by one of my favorite sites, Hencam.com

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This is a ladder style roost but does not have a poop board that I described.  Unfortunately, this would not work since I wanted the window facing the run that now created a problem for mounting the rungs and it would also take up a lot of space in my coop.  We placed a board about 20 inches high and almost 6 feet long – the length of the coop.     Here is what my roosting bar inside the coop looks like:

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The piece of wood closest to the door is just a brace.   The chickens cannot roost on it because there is not enough room for them to stand.   You can also see my “training” roost bar in front of the window.   When the roosting bar is in place, we do not use the heat lamp unless we want fried chicken.   I was watching one night to see if they would jump up there and I did not see them do it.   The next morning, there was a piece of poop up there so I know at least one used it.   I know from watching them that my chickens are very “monkey see, monkey do” so I know it is only a matter of time before I peek in the window to see all 6 snuggled together sleeping for the night, safe and warm in their coop.

 

 

 

Finishing the coop

Some time has passed and I have been so wrapped up in holding the chicks, cleaning up after the chicks, and watching the chicks that I have neglected to post a coop update.   Every weekend and some week nights entail “cooping” for my husband, Pete.  Don’t worry, I am there “cooping” too – just more as a dedicated helper and not a full fledged assistant.   My “honey-do” list is short but chicken filled.   I need roosting bars, a pop up ladder, etc.   For him, it never ends.   He is  cursed by being handy.   Over the past few weeks, he hasn’t let me down.  He added the nesting box onto the back and installed the steel roof to keep them dry and safe.   Notice that it matches our house/garage roof.  It was left over from our home install – also done by the fantastic Pete.

IMG_2760For someone who has never built a coop or home structure, he did a GREAT job.    He made a guillotine style pop up door on a rope pulley system so I could let the gals out every morning without going into the run – unless I wanted to, and let me tell you, so far I want to go in to see them every morning.   I love to watch them all run out the door when it opens.   They can’t wait to get out and run and spread their wings.   They definitely act like they were “cooped up” by the time I get there at 6:30am.   I also love the window that was installed on the run side of the coop.    Pete said he will put a roosting bar that will run the length of the wall so they will have the chicken equivalent of a “front porch”.   That will come later.   I am so excited!

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The next few things on my “honey do” list were not functional but more fun for me.   I bought letters that spell “EGGS” to put on the outside of the nesting boxes.   I love the way it turned out.  You can also see the hardwired outlet to the left of the nesting box.  My neighbor is an electrician and came over to hardwire the outlet and also add an exterior outlet to the backside of my garage if we need to use a heat lamp, heated water dish in the winter, etc.  Don’t worry about the paint job.   I am still working on finishing the trim around the windows and small spaces by the trim.

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Pete next indulged my flower box obsession and mounted a flower box under one of the windows.   I have always wanted flower boxes on my house.   Not on one window but EVERY window.   Unfortunately, I have never had a flower box under one of my windows – until now.   Now, my chicks will have a flower box to look out to and I will have one to plant and grow.   The only flaw to my plan was that I am unsure how much sunlight the flower box will get.   Guess I will be tracking sunlight for the next few days.   My 3 mature oak trees in the back yard provide a lot of shade so I will have to plan accordingly so my flower box will actually grow flowers.  Decisions, decisions….

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The Morning After

Last night it was with heavy heart and great anxiety that I put my chicks in the coop for the night. This morning it was with great embarrassment and feelings of neglect that I woke up realizing I slept like a rock last night. So much so that I didn’t even check on them once! What a poor mother hen I am! I woke up at 5am like the fire alarm was going off and ran out to the coop. I fully expected to hear loud peeps and see 7 inch long predator claw marks on the side of the coop but I walked out to neither. The chicks were happily sitting by the window to the run. There were not only no claw marks on the coop but no holes dug around the perimeter either. A very uneventful night for both of us. I did notice, however, what appeared to be numerous ant holes around the coop. Bonus for the chicks! Looks like dinner will be coming to them!

First Night in the Coop

It is with a heavy heart and great anxiety that I put my chicks, my girls, my babies in the coop for the night. Pete finished some ticky tacky items and we deemed the coop ready for occupancy. The girls have been visiting for the past week but tonight’s the night. They are literally leaving the nest of our house and moving out. I will say that Pete has done more than his share reassuring me they will be okay. “The coop is secure. Nothing is getting in there,” he says. “What about Mosquitos? They can go through the hardware cloth and give them fowl pox or worse…eat them alive! Cue to Pete shaking his head. He did humor me and placed window screening on the inside of the coop to keep the bugs out. “Okay, what about heat? The low tonight is 55 degrees”. I swear within minutes our electrician neighbor was over putting an electrical outlet on the outside wall so we can plug in the heat lamp tonight. “Okay, now they are crying because it is getting dark. They don’t like the dark and their cries will draw the attention of predators”. Click. Pete flipped on the light switch in the coop. The peeping stopped and they were content. I know the coop is where they belong and they seem happier out there where they have more room but…. It doesn’t make it easier. I have a feeling I am in for a restless nights sleep consisting of looking out the window to make sure the heat light is on and peeking into the coop to make sure they aren’t too hot or too cold but, just right.

Jail Break

Every time we go by the brooder, the chickens, especially Stretch, like to look up and circle over to where we are.  I look down at them and smile. It is nice to know that they are happy to see me too.   When we lift the cardboard covering the bars on the front of the brooder, they naturally come over, curious as to what is happening.   I hate to take pictures with the bars in the way, so I will lower the opening to take a clear shot of the action inside.   The last time I did that Peaches took “flight” and tried to escape via the hatch.

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Whoa!  Back you go.   What a fluke thing.   I thought….  Well, I was wrong.   They weren’t the cute, innocent, little chicks I thought they were.   They weren’t looking up at us lovingly when we peered in either.   They were waiting for me to move the screened top so they had a way out.  Freedom.   I am now looking at them like the smart, cunning velociraptors from the movie Jurassic Park.   They crane their necks and look up at the screen covering the top, not to see us but to find a way out of their cage.  See the similarity?

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They check all the nooks in the brooder, sizing up the best route out.   Learning where the weak spots were.  And they found one when I go to clean the feed and water font.   When I clean them, I slide the screen covering the top open to take it out and leave it open a bit.  When I brought the water back, I saw this waiting for me:

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Hatsy had jumped/flapped 22 inches to the top of the cage.    I am amazed that she stuck the landing and did not fall over the side.   I love how in the second picture she is looking down at her minions.   Almost bragging that she made the jump and they didn’t.   All the while Stretch and Peaches are jumping and flapping trying to get to the top too.   Now, I look at this scenario and wonder, “do they purposely kick pine shavings into their water font so I will move the screen to clean it?  Are they kicking out food and making a general mess to determine the length of time it takes me to recover the flooring and their window of time to jump out?”   Possibly…..  Sneaky little chicks!

Hatsy has tasted freedom and the others want that taste too.   I am now on high alert because as far as I am concerned, a chick outside of the brooder is a dog snack.   My Beagle mix pooches are very prey driven and they may not “eat” them but they will “play” with them.   So for now, they are on full lockdown.  Hopefully, the coop will be completed this weekend so they can move out with their heat lamp to more spacious “digs”.  All that is left is nest boxes, the metal roof, and locks on all doors.   Who knows what they could figure out if the locks were left out!