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The Poultry Project Blog - First Year, 2008

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(entries below are in chronological order, bottom up)

December 26, 2008 - Clean Dropping Pit

Cool damp weather and wet droppings are not compatible for keeping the chicks' dropping pit sweet smelling. For the first time, I smelled amonia. So today I scooped all the wet shavings out and refilled the pit with clean, dry shavings.

I think I'll just have to change it more often if we don't have dry air to keep the shavings dry.

December 16 , 2008 - Broody, broody, broody

The lovely Columbian Wyandotte (her photo is on the front of the calendar) has been broody for almost 3 weeks. During that time one of the Black Australorps also started brooding--again! With two of them occupying nests, eggs were being laid on the coop floor. Sooooo, I took drastic measures and put both of the bad girls in a wire pen so they couldn't get to the nests.

Jail works very well for the Australorp. It only took a couple of days in jail during the day for her to get the idea to avoid the nest. Her white sister though is rooted in. Oh well, it's raining now so I'm letting her sit in the nest all day since 3 vacant nests are enough for the rest of the girls.

The wintery weather (and 2 broody girls) has slowed egg production a bit. We had a low of 5 eggs on Sunday, 8 each of the last 2 days. This is down from 11 and even 12 one day in late November.

November 5 , 2008 - Pelleted Feed

I've switched the girls from layer crumbles to pellets. The feed store said the pellets are easier for the birds to find when they peck them out of the feeder, so they waste less food. He was right. I'm tracking production and I got 21 days from a bag of pellets (17 for the crumbles).

Soft shelled eggs are a thing of the past at least so far. I'm thinking it was a processing of growing up.

I'm back to giving them produce cuttings and have seen no leathery shells for several months.

We had our first rain of the season last weekend. The chicks were protected babies when it rained here last so this was their first encounter with precipitation. Some of them didn't seem to mind at all while others cackled in protest. Water beads up on their feathers and scratching in the mud appears to be fun.

October 14 , 2008 - Broody no more!

Well two days in jail last week did the trick. The Black Chick is no longer broody, but she's not laying eggs yet either. Hopefully, that will resume soon.

She must have known that the very day she quit brooding I had arranged with the local feed store to take her and sell her as a broody hen. That will happen if she tries this again!

October 7 , 2008 - Broody again!

The Black Australorp hen that was broody for so long this summer is at it again. This time I'm taking drastic measures to 'break her up'--stop her from brooding so she can get back to laying eggs.

I made her a little wire pen (jail) in the outdoor yard, put water and food in and covered it with some spare shade cloth. She jumped out twice before the shade cloth--both times she went back to the nest.

I was busy yesterday evening and didn't notice the time until it was nearly dark and the other girls had gone into the barn to roost. Poor little Black Chick was still outside in her jail and not happy about it. When I released her, she nearly ran into the barn to join her buddies on the roosts--she usually goes straight back to the nests. Maybe being jailed and then abandoned has jolted her out of broodiness? We'll see.

I'm trying to decide if I want to cull her if she keeps this up. I'm not in the egg production business as these chickens are really a hobby. But this hen is keeping the others from getting to the nests. Fortunately, so far only one of the 13 ladies has broody tendencies.

September 21, 2008 - 11 Eggs!

For the first time, I gathered 11 eggs in one day. Before this, 10 was the most. I often thought I should get more than 10 when I have 13 hens. Don't you suppose all 13 could sometime be on the exact same schedule?

September 13, 2008 - The Girls

The ladies are still laying between 7 and 10 eggs a day even though the days are shortening. They wake up about 4:30a (yikes!) now with a light to keep them on a 14 hours a day of daylight. The books say if you are going to add supplemental light, to add the extra light in the morning so they can go to roost at night naturally. It seems to be working.

The Black Australorp who was broody for most of August is back to laying eggs.

Blind Chick (the Buff Orpington who is blind in one eye) has adoped the top of the shavings bail to lay her eggs. The top of the plastic was open so she got right in. She seems to prefer not being closed in and I suspect the evil Barred Rock was pecking her when she was laying eggs on the floor. See her in the Gallery on this date.

With the last bag of feed, I've begun to calculate my egg costs. Kind of like miles per gallon on your car, when bag is empty, I'll know how much each egg costs. I've begun accepting money for eggs now and sell beteween 3 and 4 dozen of surplus each week. A few regular customers make disposing of eggs easy for me and we still have enough for our own use.

We seem to be over the soft shelled eggs. I've gone back to giving them treats--they love cantaloupe rind. We have a surplus of Ambrosia cantaloupe.

August 14, 2008 - Another huge egg

This huge egg weighed in at 95 grams--the last biggest egg was 80 grams. Inside were two perfect yolks. I was expecting three yolks. Again, I don't know which hen is laying these monsters, but they are about a month apart. I collect between 8 and 10 eggs a day--many of which are now in the medium size range. See the big egg in the Gallery on this date.

We've had no soft shells so far this month. As an experiment, I've begun adding a few treats back to their diet--they love watermelon rind, and they eat it back to the dark green outside skin. But all treats in moderation seems to be the key. Either it was a food thing or just a normal part of growing up. At least for now all the eggs have hard shells.

August 2, 2008 - Soft eggs and broody hen update

Soft, leathery shelled eggs appear to be directly related to the kind of food the chicks eat. If they eat only layer crumbles (no treats of any kind), they lay nice hard eggs. In fact most of the chickens lay nice eggs all the time, but as many as 4 seem to be affected by food low in calcium. So, I limit them to layer food with a little scratch grain first thing in the morning. The odd thing about the soft shells--they are all laid over night while the chicks are roosting. All the eggs they lay in the nests during the day are fine.

The Black Australorp that went broody a week ago seems determined. No amount of moving her off the nest is working and she has definitely stopped laying. This is not a big deal though since most days I'm collecting 9 or 10 eggs from the remaining 12 girls.

One Barred Rock really picks on the broody hen, but only when I'm around. Guess I change the pecking order. Or maybe the Barred Rock sees me remove the Black Chick from the nest and thinks she's helping me by pecking her out if don't get to her first! I watch them from my office window and there are no squabbles when they are alone. See the Evil Chick in the Gallery on this date.

July 26, 2008 - The broody hen

It was only a matter of time before one of the girls became broody--giving in to the instinct to sit on the nest and hatch some eggs. Almost all of the breeds I have are known for being good mothers. This Black Australorp doesn't realize that without a rooster no amount of sitting there is going to result in chicks.

I pick up eggs at least 3 times a day in an attempt to prevent broodiness. Now I'm also moving this hen off the nest when I go to look for eggs. For the past 2 days, she's always on the nest when I go out, and fortunately doesn't get mad when I lift her.

It's hard to tell if she's still laying. I understand they don't when they begin brooding a clutch of eggs. Late in the day when everyone else is usually finished laying, I close the coop door so they can't get to the nests. Hopefully she will get the idea. She's using valuable nest space!

See a picture of her on this date in the Gallery.

July 24, 2008 - Soft eggshell solution?

I mentioned in my last note that we've been seeing leather shelled eggs--as many as 4 one day. I looked on the web for solutions, but didn't find much except talk about the calcium the birds need to make shells.

Food is love and my chicks have been getting lots of treats. Fearing I was giving them too much food lacking in calcium, I withheld treats. For 2 days now they've eaten only layer crumbles and I've had only one leather egg. The good eggs laid later in the day look fine and we hit a new record of 10 eggs yesterday, 8 today.

I may have been spoiling them (literally) with food. No more leftover fruit and vegies from the house till I see if this is the solution. I've begun tracking their production daily, including leathery eggs so I'll be able to compare.

July 18, 2008 - The really big egg

See the Gallery on this date for a picture of a huge egg someone laid today. It weighs almost 80 grams (extra large eggs weigh 73 grams and up), ouch!

We are also have a few leathery shelled eggs that seem to be slipping out during the night over the roosting pit. They usually break when they hit the wire beneath the roosts and drop into the pit. This morning I found two leathery pouches on the wire when the girls went outside. Then the girls went on to lay 9 perfect eggs in the nests.

I'm hoping this will pass. They get a good quality layer feed with calcium, and I add oyster shell to their feed every day. Ive read about it on the internet and no one seems to really know why it happens and then clears up. Some of the reasons given were rain, extreme heat, or frightening experiences. We don't have rain this time of year, but we certainly have heat, and a coyote who visits the chicks from time to time probably provides some stress. We had some leather shells when the girls first started laying then all was well for several weeks.

July 16, 2008 - Breed behavior observations

With so many different breeds, it's fun to compare them in a completely unscientific way. Now that they are all laying, and since we don't have a rooster, I guess they think I'm the rooster! They squat down when I approach and stay down for me to pet or even pick them up without any attempt to escape. Well they all do this except the two Wyandottes.

I know the Silver Laced Wyandotte is laying, but she'll have nothing to do with me. She and the Coumbian Wyandotte were quite friendly as tiny babies, but as adults they are the least friendly of my flock.

Even without the squatting, the rest of the girls are extremely friendly. Or maybe they are just more demanding of a handout. They will huddle around me or following me into the coop talking all the way when I check for eggs.

As for egg laying, the Rhode Island Reds were both first to lay and usually lay an egg every day. The Black Australorps and Buff Orpingtons follow closely on the Rhodies heels at producing. I know for sure one Buff Orpington lays an egg every day--she is blind in one eye and prefers to lay her eggs on the floor of the coop in a cozy corner. I've found her eggs in that spot every day except one for the past 2 weeks.

The Barred Rocks, Light Brahma and Wyandottes don't compete for production with the others, at least not yet.

June 25, 2008 - Nest eggs work

Two of the first three eggs were delivered on the floor of the coop. Nice but not perfect. The books say nest eggs--a fake egg placed in each nest--help convince the hens to put their eggs in the nest too.

Well, since adding nest eggs to the nests on June 20, all 9 of the subsequent eggs have been laid in the nests! Does this really work or have the hens just gotten used to the nest boxes now? Who knows.

As of this writing, we are getting 2 eggs a day. Both Rhode Island Reds and all 3 Black Australorps are working gals now. Today I gathered egg #12 for an even first dozen. See the Gallery tab on this date for pictures of the big event.

June 15 , 2008 - 18 weeks

An egg! Today Mark and I finished building the 4 nests. While we were trying to finish, one Rhode Island Red insisted on trying out the nests. She got right in to an empty cubby and began scratching. She had absolutely no fear of us or the noise we were making--not common behavior from this chick. We didn't realize what she really wanted to do, so we kept moving her so we could work. Poor girl.

When my husband left with the tools and it was just us girls, she deposited a tiny egg in one of the nests.

I had read that heavy breed hens don't usually being laying till 20 weeks or more. We were late getting the nests built, but I thought we still had a little more time. Guess no one told the chicken!

See photos of the nest boxes on this date at the Coop tab and the big event is in the Gallery.

May 25 , 2008 - 3 Months

It's been about a month since I updated the site. Not much has changed except the chicks are getting bigger and their wattles and combs are beginning to grow. They are 3 months old now and look like bantam hens. No more flying up to the top of fences. Clipping flight feathers of one wing did the trick--till they grow back!

So far everyone is getting along. I'm hoping it stays that way. Since they have lots of room, especially during the day, I think maybe they will have less stress and be happier together.

My chicks have endured their first triple digit heat--a little early even for us. I gave them plenty of ventilation in the coop and they were happy to stay in the shade with their little beaks open. I was worried about getting chickens here in Sacramento because of our heat. Guess if they can make it through 102 degrees, they might make it through August!

They associate my appearance with something good to eat so now I feel obligated to take something for them when I visit. They are a great way to dispose of vegie peels and cuttings. Every Sunday Mark gives them a basket of lawn clippings full of great bugs and greens. They will also eat snails, but they have to be crushed first--finicky girls!

Rodents have found the chicken feeder--not a surprise since we live in the country. We were considering getting a barn cat, but the rescue folks are worried about coyotes--me too. So we are resorting to bait.

We traveled twice in the last month. Both times our pet sitter looked after the girls. Not much to do with automatic feeders and waterers. In the future our sitter will get to take home fresh eggs every day.

Our next project, scheduled for June or early July, is nests. The girls will be 5 months old in July and could begin laying eggs by August. Now that they sleep reliably on the roosts, I hope introduction of nests won't create a new sleeping opportunity. As I understand it, making the nests a little lower than the roosts is the trick. They want high ground for sleeping, and I want poop in the pit--not in the nests!

April 29, 2008 - Life is Good

With the new outdoor pen finished, the chicks have learned that our dogs are scary but can't hurt them so they are spending all day outside.

We had a few flyers in the coop at night--they want to get up higher than the roosts we made for them. I wouldn't mind that they sit on top of the chain link panel to sleep, but I don't want them to think they can also fly up to the top of the outdoor fence and then escape. My biggest fear is coyotes.

So everyone got their flight feathers clipped on one wing. Two had already submitted to this some weeks ago and that stopped them from flying up. Now everyone is grounded. They can still get up to the roosts (2 feet high), but not 6 feet to the top of the fences--at least till those feathers are replaced. If they aren't to heavy to fly by then, I'll clip again.

One barred rock comes running to greet me with a cooing sound when I go near the chicks. It's a simple case of mooching--she wants food and I usually have some swiss chard--her favorite.

I went to the feed store today to get an outdoor waterer and also looked at their latest batch of chicks. Wow, it's hard to remember my girls were that small.

Someone asked if my chickens have names. The simple answer--no. There are two I call 'Red Chick', two 'White Chick', three 'Black Chick'--you see where I'm going with this. I can't tell the Australorps or Orpingtons apart most of the time so naming would be problematic.

April 17, 2008 - Judgement Day

We parted with our little rooster today. The feed store where I bought the 4 supplemental chicks will take back the fellas when you buy all hens. They will sell him to someone who wants a more mature bird. My buddy Nicole has a guy who will take 'culls', but he doesn't want them till they are ready to butcher--5 months old. I was afraid this guy bird would be chasing me around the yard by then!

So we are down to one Light Brahma and a total of 13 birds, all of which I'm almost certain are hens.

April 4, 2008 - 2 Months Old Already

The Silver Laced Wyandotte is still very black, but the lovely white lacing around the black feathers is beginning to appear on her breast feathers. See her in the Gallery on this same date.

One Barred Rock and one Black Australorp learned how to fly up to the top pole of the coop's dog run panel. This happened after I turned off the heat light at night. I imagine they are following instincts of wanting to be high off the ground at night.

I want them to stay in their coop at night for their own protection, so the two ladies had to submit to having the flight feathers clipped from one wing each. The Barred Rock took this pretty well, but the Australorp threw a hissy fit before I accomplished the deed. It's not like this hurts them! Everyone was on their intended roosting boards the next night.

I think we will be saying farewell soon to a rooster. One of the Light Brahmas is getting a red comb and wattles, while the rest look very 'henny'. I'll wait for some crowing so I can be really sure.

In April, Mark and I will begin construction of the permanent outdoor pen. This will be a roomy 50' x 20' and will include the former horse shelter for shade in the summer. Till then they have already thoroughly mowed the small area of their temporary run.

March 21 , 2008 - Six Weeks Old Already

The chicks are looking more and more like chickens now. Of the two Wyandottes, there is definitely one white one--Columbian while the other is very black. I'm hoping the black one will begin to show the beautiful Silver Laced plumage I so wanted in my flock. The two Brahmas bodies look so different, I'm thinking one is a rooster. I'm told 6 weeks is too soon to make a definite sex identification, so we wait.

One of the three Black Australorps is especially friendly and will allow me to pet and lift her without fussing. I can set her on my lap and she's perfectly happy to stay. She will even let me stroke her back--something that makes the others give a little sqawk! I've noticed that friendliness comes and goes as they age. The two Wyandottes were very friendly as tiny babies, but both are more wary now.

They still seem to appreciate the heat light at night, but it's off during the day now. The first bulb burned out this week. Not sure how much of one night they spent in the cold utter darkness, but they survived just fine. I got a replacement from the local feed store.

About half of them sleep on perches at night while a few still prefer the bedding. Soon they should all be using the perches and I can remove the patch of bedding I've left on top of the dropping pit.

Once this week when I opened the gate to refill their waterer, three of the chicks hopped right out. I panicked because catching them if they got out of the barn would be nearly impossible now. Fortunately, all three were terrified by freedom and scurried back and forth along the fence trying to get back in. They were easy to scoop up and toss in to the safety of their sisters.

I gave them a pot of snails gathered from the garden this week. At first the chicks were afraid of them. Even when the snails began to move, the chicks were hesitant. I left and returned to an empty pot. The snails either escaped or were eaten--I'm thinking the latter! Cauliflower was their latest new food treat. Again, hesitant at first then after a few brave birds tried it, they all chowed down.

The chicks definitely connect my appearance with food. As soon as I come into the barn, they form a solid line along the fence--waiting. I feel guilty going out there empty handed now!

Now that they are using the larger area I don't have much clean up to do. Their droppings mix with the shavings and dry out quickly. There is no smell so far. This week we will install an automatic waterer to the coop and set up a small (10x10 foot) outdoor area to begin foraging in.

March 10 , 2008 - Life in the Coop

The chicks are a month old now and should only need heat for a couple more weeks. They quickly hop out of the pit each morning when I open the lid. They spend the day in the whole coop only going back in the pit at night for the heat light.

We will be getting the perches put in place on top of the pit shortly so they can practice roosting. They are used to forming a mass on the floor to sleep, but their instincts should soon be telling them to be above the ground at night.

March 2 , 2008 - Coop Construction

We closed off the last section of the coop--this is where the nests will be attached later.

One chick I thought was a Silver Laced Wyandotte may in fact be a Columbian Wyandotte afterall. As more of her feathers come in, they appear to be white. Time will tell.

February 29, 2008 - Coop Construction

Since the chicks were flying to the top of the big water tub every time I removed the wire cover to clean and feed we decided to step up plans for the coop. This week was devoted to building the dropping pit in the coop so the chicks can use it for more space.

The chicks new home is a 4x6 area and they are loving it. When they are grown, this will be the pit they will roost over at night. See photos and more description of the construction under the "Coop" tab. Photos of the girls in their new home under "Gallery".

February 21, 2008 - Breed Development Observations

This isn't a scientific study, but I've noticed a few patterns that may be breed related.

As to friendliness, one of each breed is showing obvious curiosity and lack of fear of human contact. Two exceptions are that all three Buff Orpingtons are shy and don't approach me, while all three Black Australorps are friendly. Three of the four newest chicks (both Brahmas and one Barred Rock) are very friendy.

Another observation is that the friendliest birds are the ones who try new things first--the perch for example, was attempted first by my buddies. The buffs and other shy girls just watched.

The weakest baby of the first 10 is among the most curious and friendly. She was the one I wasn't sure about color--she now looks to be a Silver Laced Wyandotte.

It will be interesting to see if this behavior turns into pecking order as they grow. Hopefully it's not the sign of a rooster!

February 18 , 2008 - Food Waste and Dirty Water

I thought the girls were eating a lot till I realized most of the food is being kicked or 'billed out' of the feeders I keep filling.

I've changed tactics by no longer filling the jar which gets inverted and automatically dispenses into the feeder bowl. Now I just top off the feeder bowl and screw the empty jar back on. Soon I'll need to get bigger feeders--the little head holes won't be big enough before long.

Poop in the water :-( The new strategy to help prevent this is to raise the waterers up using blocks of wood so the chicks can't walk in the water as easily. This has helped some. Little piggies.

I think their move to permanent quarters where they'll have hanging waterers and feeders will solve or at least improve these two problems.

ps. The weak chick from the first group is catching up and shows no signs of trouble now.

February 15 , 2008 - More Chicks

The first 10 chicks are alive and well. Yesterday, they were joined by 4 new babies my local feed store had just received. With only 4 days difference in age, only a mother can tell.

My nearest store isn't due for chicks till April so I was surprised by how early these chicks were available. Not as many exotic breed choices and none of the chicks I'm missing, but 2 new breeds are now part of the family--Barred Rocks and Light Brahmas--see the latest family line up on the Breeds page.

I've learned how to make short films of them with my digital camera. See my latest amateur attempt on YouTube, "Bird in the Hand", in the Gallery.

Two of the new babies are suffering from poopy butts. Thankfully the first babies have recovered so I'm only doing "diapers" for 2 rather than 7! Who knew--chick poop doesn't smell. Or maybe it's because they are my chicks... No, it really doesn't smell!

February 13 , 2008 - Chicken Butts

Five of the babies (including the recovering weakling) have loose stools--not surprising considering the fate of most of their traveling companions. The condition is called "pasting up" and is fairly common in very young chicks. Not enjoyable for anyone--it means poop sticks to their downy butts and dries. If not attended to, the build up can prevent them from pooping.

I followed the instructions in the book about washing the droppings off with a moist towel--this took way too long and the chicks REALLY don't like it.

I found that snipping the down off with cuticle scissors worked best since the manure doesn't actually stick to the skin. Pulling the manure off is just too uncomfortable for the chicks because it pulls out the down. Besides speed, the added benefit of snipping the down is less for future stools to stick to.

I also put a small amount of vaseline on their vents to help prevent sticking. The Vaseline ideas was mine and didn't seem to cause any problems.

February 11 , 2008 - Chicks!

The Post Office called at 7:30a.m. to come pick up the chicks. Unfortunately, there were mass casualties for unknown reasons on their 2-day voyage. Only 10 chicks survived out of 26. I think the layover somewhere cold on Sunday caused them to pile together to stay warm and smother each other. See the survivors in the Gallery.

As the instructions said, I dipped each bird's beak in the water before turning it loose in the brooder. All but one hopped off to the warm heat light. One little girl seemed front-end heavy and had some trouble staying on her feet. She's weaker than the rest. Time will tell.

February 1 , 2008

One week to go. I phoned the hatchery to check that my order will be complete and on schedule. They will ship the chicks on Saturday, February 9 by air express. Iowa to California means they will probably arrive in California Sunday and be held over till Monday. My local post office is closed on Sunday :-( The Elk Grove post office will phone me when they arrive. Hopefully, the babies will only have to spend 2 days in the box.

January 12 and 13, 2008

We attended a poultry show and visited a local egg production farm--a real chicken weekend! See pictures at the bottom of this Gallery page.

January 1, 2008

The chickens are coming! The original plan to raise chickens for eggs was 'hatched' as part of our plan to move to Oregon. The house didn't sell so we are going to be in California at least another year. My husband, Mark--saint that he is, agreed to help me set up for them here.

February 11 or 12, 2008 is the day Fetler Farm (mostly Jan!) begins the Poultry Project with 15 chicks. There will be three each of five different breeds--see the "Breeds" link above to see what these beauties will look like.

All the chicks will be hens which will produce an (over) abundance of eggs by the end of the year. On this page I'll document the Project from housing construction, to chick arrival, to all the trials and tribulations of the first year.

Yes, I am a little nuts as are many other folks who want home grown eggs, even if it's more expensive than buying them at the store. But, I'll have the fun of watching these beauties grow and entertain, and I'll probably be the first person you know who carries photos of chickens around with her.


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