Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Our Chickens' Tale: From Adoption to First Snow

I always wanted to have backyard chickens!  As a young girl I spent a few summers on my aunt Connie's farm, plus some time at local farms and ranches.  I really loved the animals and wanted to have some chickens in my own back yard.  As an adult, I feel that adopting animals is a family decision and wasn't something that I should just do on my own without my family's participation.  Then this spring my hubby, Chad, told me about his friend's "Chicken Tractor" (mobile chicken coop) and how he thought it would be cool to have one.  Our chicken project was on!

On the summer solstice our kids and I drove to the local hatchery and adopted three one-day-old chicks that were all sexed to be girls (pullets).

They looked like fuzzy little Peeps candies!  We chose Buff Orpingtons because this breed is very large, winter hardy, and good winter layers.  We wanted a large breed because we have cats and hawks so I figured a large breed would be less likely to get attacked, and our winters can be cold so I wanted a breed that can survive cold weather.
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My husband made a brooding box out of a storage container, he cut out the lid and replaced it with hardware cloth that's secured with 1x2s.  We put the box in our guest room bath tub figuring that was the safest place from our cats, and set up a heat lamp to keep them warm.  Our son, Sam, was their primary caretaker and changed their bedding and checked on their food and water twice daily.

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The books say that they should stay in the brooder box for weeks or months, but we felt that was cruel. After all, they're children and children need to play out doors!  So we would take them outside a few times each day so they could play and practice bug hunting.  We were protective Mother Hens and stayed close by to protect them from any dangers.




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While they were growing we were working very hard to make the Chicken Tractor.  I was the architect and drew the design and its dimensions on graph paper, Chad was the building engineer and figured out exactly how the mechanics of the design would work.  Our kids, Sam and Alan, both gave us their very good ideas which were incorporated into the finished product.  Chad built the tractor during his non-work hours, and I painted it with Alan's help.

This is the finished Chicken Tractor!  It has a nice sized hen house with an attached run.  You can see it's on wheels and has long handles to pick it up and move it around the yard like a wheel barrow. While they were still little they spent most of their time inside the tractor so we placed some branches inside on which they could play.



Here's the chicken run, you can see there's hardware cloth along the bottom--this is to stop them from tearing up the turf and also to prevent animals from gaining entrance from underneath like pests such as mice and predators such as raccoons.  In fact, the entire chicken tractor was designed more to keep raccoons out than to keep chickens in.


This is the Hen House.  It has a window for summer time ventilation, two nesting boxes, and a loft!  Above the door latch you can see a small metal covered vent through which we can put an electrical cord for a heat lamp in winter.

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The chicks grew quickly from being cute little fuzzy things into their unfortunate "dinosaur phase" in which they resemble feathered dinosaurs.  But they were still sweet and adorable, and helped us with our grasshopper problem.  I taught my kids what I learned from childhood, how to catch grasshoppers and feed them to chicks.


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Soon they grew large enough that we felt comfortable introducing them to our cats.  They get along well with Sparkie who likes to take naps in the hen house!


But unfortunately they don't get along as well with our other cat, Casey, and if he gets too close they chase him away! Sorry, no photo.

They were big enough we let them free-range during daylight hours.  The first time I left them out in the back yard while I was gone, I returned to find a hawk circling!  Apparently the hawk felt they were too big to eat so he left. Whew!


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As they grew, we noticed that Donna was maturing differently than the other two and it became apparent that Donna was actually Donald.  Chick sexing is around 95% accurate so there's always a chance that you're going to get a cockerel (young rooster) even if you adopt pullets (young hens).

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We live in a suburb and a rooster would disturb the neighbors, not to mention my hubby who works nights and sleeps late, so we had to find Donald a new home.  We asked around a found a family who was intrigued by a friendly cockerel/rooster who likes to sit on laps and they agreed to take him--and not eat him!  Arranging the adoption was strategically difficult because both the husband and wife of the adoptive family are in the National Guard and were in the process of being deployed.  This is Donald right before we took him to his new home:

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And this is Donald's new home.  He lives with a couple dozen hens, another rooster, a few geese, a giant rabbit, and a young steer.


We miss him and hope to visit him soon.

BTW, the family's college student son takes care of the farm while the mom and dad are deployed.


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Since then, the girls have grown in to plump young pullets (young hens).  



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The girls are just barely old enough and big enough to start laying but they haven't yet,  I'm guessing this is because their bodies are too busy adapting to the onset of cold weather to divert energy into egg production.  We just had our first snow and they didn't seem to like it very much.


They spent much of the day in our pine grove where the ground was fairly dry while we spent the day winterizing the chicken tractor.

Sam cleaned the hen house while Chad, Alan, and I cleared out the makeshift green house I created in our veggie garden--where we found two ripe tomatoes and a bouquet of calendula flowers!  After we cleared the veggie bed we placed chicken tractor there, and that was no easy feat because it's a raised bed!  On top of the hen house I placed a water heater insulation blanket and covered it with translucent plastic from the makeshift green house, the plastic covered much of the run.  Then we filled the gap from the ground up to the bottom of the blanket with bales of pressed straw hay.  The hen house is easy to reach by unwrapping the plastic like gift wrapping, and inside the hen house is a lamp to keep them warm and also give them supplementary lighting to encourage egg laying.

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I had some left over garden plastic so I created a winter play fort by stretching it over and around our outdoor dining set, weighted it down with pots, and lining the ground with hay to keep little feet warm and catch droppings.


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So now you're up to date with our chickens' tale. They haven't laid any eggs yet but they've already helped our garden by providing lots "manure" and straw for us to compost.  They've also helped us with our insect pests, but they're indiscriminant in their bug hunting so when we find a beneficial insect like a praying mantis we pick it up and move it to the veggie bed where the chickens aren't allowed to go during the growing season. They also help to "mow" the lawn and fertilize it, plus eat the weeds.  Not to mention that they're cute, sweet, photogenic, and we love them!

Now lay some eggs!  Please?

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UPDATE:

We have our first egg!


This afternoon Lois laid an egg!   This is actually Francine in the photo, for some reason Lois didn't want to be in the photo and Francine seemed interested by all the excitement.
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Sunday, November 21, 2010

A year in the new garden




I moved into my new home in Dorset England a year ago this week here are a selection of images of the gardens development through that year

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Butterfly & Butterfly Bush

This is my Picture Perfect entry for this week's theme of flora and fauna.  I was horseback in our yard watching the butterflies on the flowers.  My young horse Doc's left ear can be seen under the frame of fall leaves in the lower right hand corner.  This is the Texas Panhandle, USA, Oct, 20, 2010.  I have been dared by my husband and another Multiply contact to use a horse in each week's theme.  This makes the weekly themes more challenging and fun for me as horses are my favorite and I take lots and lots of horse pictures and pictures while riding.  The frame of fall leaves was done on the web site Picnik. 


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Friend's Garden




My friend, just loves his garden, he is retired now , he was a spitfire pilot 2nd world war.I popped in to say hi and snap snap went the camera haven't cropped or any thing. I need to go back in to town bit of a busy time you know, but hey if you like looking at photo's please do thank you

Monday, November 8, 2010

Link to some fall color

Blog I did today about the sunrise, the color of the autumn trees and the remodel.  Just click on the words It's a Mad House Today below this line:


It's a Mad House Today

Here's one of the photos:


Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Food Chain on the Rockin' Heart Ranch

Location: Texas Panhandle, USA  The food chain is interesting. Last week we noticed yellow jackets on the sunflowers. After watching closely we discovered that ants were after the aphids and the yellow jackets were catching the ants. The next day we found a very large bee (or hornet) that had captured and killed a yellow jacket. Today swarms of yellow jackets and other wasps looking bugs, plus flies, ants, and other insects were all over the sunflowers. Appeared to be eating sap and also maybe smaller insects. Not sure. Too many in the clumps of bugs to tell exactly what was going on. Didn't seem to mind the fact that I was close and watching.


Otiorhynchus Sulcatus - Leaf Eating Weevil

 
Beetle

Photo by me on my white garden table

This little monster is known in german as the "Dickmaulr├╝ssler" (the thick mouthed trunk, literally translated) and I found the translation in Wikipedia. If you want to know the biological details and life of him then have a look in Internet. He turns up in my garden starting in Spring and by the time Autumn arrives he has eaten his way through half the leaves in my garden. The roses suffer, the privet suffers and anything with a green fleshy leaf suffers. He prefers the thicker leaves. The leaves have a round pattern where it has eaten away what it wants. Of course you can spray all the bushes with some sort of insect poison, but I have a couple of cats and do not want them to be poisoned as well. All that is left for me to do is take photos of the little monster. When the colder weather arrives he even has the cheek to come inside and crawl around. They seem to prefer white surfaces, luckily, so that you can see them better.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Organic Gardening Magazine and a mutant grape

Here's a recent post from my blog to prove that I'm a real Garden Guru! At the bottom of my post I refer to Donald, who was our cockerel (young rooster).  We adopted three baby chicks that were all sexed to be girls, but sexing isn't 100% accurate so there's always a chance that you'll end up with a boy like we did.  We live in a suburb so we felt we couldn't keep him, so a farmer from the Farmer's Market helped me to place him with a farming family who are in the National Guard.



I just got the October/November issue of Organic Gardening Magazine!  This is the bottom of page 12, photographed in my golden sage plant.

Woo hoo!

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Also, today Alan found this strange mutant grape, no I didn't grow it.  Have you ever seen anything like it?  Not only is it huge, but it has ribs like a pumpkin!  After photographing it, Alan cut it up and fed it to the chickens.

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Joel gave my contact info to Donald's soon to be new family.  His new "mom" wants him to come to the farm soon, before she deploys to (I think) Virginia to train combat helicopter pilots later this month.  His soon to be new "dad" has just deployed to Iraq.  Their son will take care of the farm while they're gone.  In the mean time, we're trying to photograph Donald a lot and shoot videos of him before he goes.  He's growing into quite a handsome cockerel, and he still likes to sit on my lap!

That's it for now!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Minature Yellow Rose from the Rockin' Heart Ranch

Theses are miniature yellow roses that I grow in a container.  We are expecting a freeze tonight and decided they needed picking and brought inside for my enjoyment.  I live in the Texas Panhandle in the USA.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

So Long Since a Post Here.

A big hello to everyone where ever that may be.

It has been sometime since anyone posted here and after taking a small tour of the posts in this group, I could not help but notice how beautiful the posts have been.

Maybe it is autumn where you are and the leaves have turned into those magnificent colours nature adorns our foliage with before the winter comes and blows hard covering some of your gardens in a blanket of snow.

Here on the other hand it is spring and although it is a very mild spring this year with good rains and usually quite over cast conditions the garden has loved every drop of this welcome rain.

I went to the garden store yesterday and bought some fill up plants such as the ground cover snow in summer, a peppermint scented geranium, some beautiful blue lobelia planted beneath fragrant blue salvia and an old fashioned red Kalenchloe.

So today as it is over cast I will do some planting and hopefully these grey clouds over head will sprinkle the earth and help the new additions.

I also purchased a pink Hippeastrum in flower and have decided to leave it in the pot for now as it has one flower and two more buds to come out later. With Giant flowers these are such a glorious bulb plant and not overly fussy to grow.

I hope that you will share your gardens and photos with us here and of course videos as I said previously this group has posted some truly wonderful posts in the past and I for one would love to see more friends and input into our little Garden Gurus Group.

Peas and Peace to All.

Green is Good.

Milli in Australia.

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