Is it really all about chickens?


Meantime back at Paradise Ranch...
We've had our first experience with wildfire. It was Northeast of us and close enough to see flames from 10 miles east of here, but wasn't a threat to us. It was still a bit unnerving.

As seen from the driveway on Tuesday.

I have my emergency 'in-case-of-wildfire-evacuation' list, but it isn't like everything is exactly in a bug-out bag yet. And I still have no way to contain the chickens in case of evac (unless we put them in the car, which is how I brought them here). I hate that that is my plan, but it is what it is. The fun part would be catching them all (good times!)


I can't remember the last time we had any real rain. 
(During monsoon season the gulf storms develop over the mountains around noon and are fully surrounding us by 3pm. They look similar to that fire smoke, only much taller clouds. In the evenings we get dreamitc silent lightening shows in the sky all around us -usually. Sometimes a strike can be seen every 3 seconds! 
We seem to be in a microclimate here, in the middle of mountain peaks/ranges, and only get overhead clouds and rain about once a week.)
It usually looks like this:


In an effort to make decisions and refine my current chicken keeping methods, I signed up for the Community Chickens newsletter- it’s sponsored by ‘MotherEarth News’ and ‘Grit’. The latest post was talking about improvements and ideas for designing the perfect coop. 
Note to self: I need to go back and see further comments!

It got me thinking on all the semi-continuous rearranging of all the elements I have used in the chicken coop as I redefine needs (shade, nests, roost, all the various water and feed dishes, the old rabbit hutch to help acclimate the chicks to the outdoors while keeping them out of harms way or to put an egg-eating hen for punishment and safe-keeping),  and just things I never considered before.

Here’s my comment:



We can all use improvements to our systems and our layouts.I'm looking forward to hearing everyone else's ideas! We live in a dry area of the southwest so moisture isn't a problem, but I agree on the ventilation! 

I have a 12x12 shed coop and hope to get up to 12 layers by next year (I can allow up to 36 birds in the coop). I need to increase the flock since they are all old now- I average getting 1 egg a day when they aren't in molt. I have 7 hens and 1 rooster (also four chicks hatched: 3 roosters and 1 hen). Lesson learned: I'll be buying sexed chicks next time rather than hatching at home.

One thing I would add to your design ideas is an area that can be fenced off somehow to allow for raising chicks before incorporating them into the flock. This keeps them and their food safe. 
I used various panels this time, but I had to climb over them which was a pain with feed and water dishes & I used the pitchfork to clear out icky straw over the top. Also note that a solid barrier doesn't let the birds see each other. The flock forgot their old friend (the mother hen) and tried to kill her immediately when they were released into the yard together. It's better if they can see each other to get used to the chicks/remain friends. It wouldn't keep flyers in or out very reliably either. (My birds are heavy cochins so they don't hardly fly, but the chicks sure do!)

I would certainly advocate combining some other elements of permaculture/sustainability-into the whole system, to cut some reliance on the feed store at least. 
Your garden area is perfect for this at the end of your season, but I can imagine the young plants would get eaten.
I've recently discovered something called a "chicken moat", which is a great idea for anyone with a garden - if you have the room and money for all the fencing required. 
Providing shade might be an important aspect to remember too.

I plan to raise some meal worms or red worms - or even black fly larva- (something protein), to help defray feed costs and provide garden soil & fish bait.
This can be done IN the coop using boxes/plastic bins, if temps are monitored (keep over 45 degrees in winter). 
With shelving along one wall, I can also raise a rabbit or a few as well, OVER the worm bins (allowing for an efficient and clean rabbit pellet-dropping system). I think rabbits left free in the coop yard will dig massive dens in the dirt and underneath the coop, and make it hard to clean. “

I have a 12x12 shed coop and hope to get up to 12 layers by next year (I can allow up to 36 birds in the coop). I need to increase the flock since they are all old now- I average getting 1 egg a day when they aren't in molt. I have 7 hens and 1 rooster (also four chicks hatched: 3 roosters and 1 hen). Lesson learned: I'll be buying sexed chicks next time rather than hatching at home.
One thing I would add to your design ideas is an area that can be fenced off somehow to allow for raising chicks before incorporating them into the flock. This keeps them and their food safe. I used various panels this time, but I had to climb over them which was a pain with feed and water dishes & I used the pitchfork to clear out icky straw over the top. Also note that a solid barrier doesn't let the birds see each other. The flock forgot their old friend (the mother hen) and tried to kill her immediately when they were released into the yard together. It's better if they can see each other to get used to the chicks/remain friends. It wouldn't keep flyers in or out very reliably either. (My birds are heavy cochins so they don't hardly fly, but the chicks sure do!)
I would certainly advocate combining some other elements of permaculture/sustainability-into the whole system, to cut some reliance on the feed store at least. Your garden area is perfect for this at the end of your season, but I can imagine the young plants would get eaten.I've recently discovered something called a "chicken moat", which is a great idea for anyone with a garden - if you have the room and money for all the fencing required. Providing shade might be an important aspect to remember too.
I plan to raise some meal worms or red worms - or even black fly larva- (something protein), to help defray feed costs and provide garden soil & fish bait.This can be done IN the coop using boxes/plastic bins, if temps are monitored (keep over 45 degrees in winter). With shelving along one wall, I can also raise a rabbit or a few as well, OVER the worm bins (allowing for an efficient and clean rabbit pellet-dropping system). I think rabbits left free in the coop yard will dig massive dens in the dirt and underneath the coop, and make it hard to clean. “

I have a 12x12 shed coop and hope to get up to 12 layers by next year (I can allow up to 36 birds in the coop). I need to increase the flock since they are all old now- I average getting 1 egg a day when they aren't in molt. I have 7 hens and 1 rooster (also four chicks hatched: 3 roosters and 1 hen). Lesson learned: I'll be buying sexed chicks next time rather than hatching at home.
One thing I would add to your design ideas is an area that can be fenced off somehow to allow for raising chicks before incorporating them into the flock. This keeps them and their food safe. I used various panels this time, but I had to climb over them which was a pain with feed and water dishes & I used the pitchfork to clear out icky straw over the top. Also note that a solid barrier doesn't let the birds see each other. The flock forgot their old friend (the mother hen) and tried to kill her immediately when they were released into the yard together. It's better if they can see each other to get used to the chicks/remain friends. It wouldn't keep flyers in or out very reliably either. (My birds are heavy cochins so they don't hardly fly, but the chicks sure do!)
I would certainly advocate combining some other elements of permaculture/sustainability-into the whole system, to cut some reliance on the feed store at least. Your garden area is perfect for this at the end of your season, but I can imagine the young plants would get eaten.I've recently discovered something called a "chicken moat", which is a great idea for anyone with a garden - if you have the room and money for all the fencing required. Providing shade might be an important aspect to remember too.
I plan to raise some meal worms or red worms - or even black fly larva- (something protein), to help defray feed costs and provide garden soil & fish bait.This can be done IN the coop using boxes/plastic bins, if temps are monitored (keep over 45 degrees in winter). With shelving along one wall, I can also raise a rabbit or a few as well, OVER the worm bins (allowing for an efficient and clean rabbit pellet-dropping system). I think rabbits left free in the coop yard will dig massive dens in the dirt and underneath the coop, and make it hard to clean. “
I have a 12x12 shed coop and hope to get up to 12 layers by next year (I can allow up to 36 birds in the coop). I need to increase the flock since they are all old now- I average getting 1 egg a day when they aren't in molt. I have 7 hens and 1 rooster (also four chicks hatched: 3 roosters and 1 hen). Lesson learned: I'll be buying sexed chicks next time rather than hatching at home.One thing I would add to your design ideas is an area that can be fenced off somehow to allow for raising chicks before incorporating them into the flock. This keeps them and their food safe. I used various panels this time, but I had to climb over them which was a pain with feed and water dishes & I used the pitchfork to clear out icky straw over the top. Also note that a solid barrier doesn't let the birds see each other. The flock forgot their old friend (the mother hen) and tried to kill her immediately when they were released into the yard together. It's better if they can see each other to get used to the chicks/remain friends. It wouldn't keep flyers in or out very reliably either. (My birds are heavy cochins so they don't hardly fly, but the chicks sure do!)I would certainly advocate combining some other elements of permaculture/sustainability-into the whole system, to cut some reliance on the feed store at least. Your garden area is perfect for this at the end of your season, but I can imagine the young plants would get eaten.I've recently discovered something called a "chicken moat", which is a great idea for anyone with a garden - if you have the room and money for all the fencing required. Providing shade might be an important aspect to remember too.I plan to raise some meal worms or red worms - or even black fly larva- (something protein), to help defray feed costs and provide garden soil & fish bait.This can be done IN the coop using boxes/plastic bins, if temps are monitored (keep over 45 degrees in winter). With shelving along one wall, I can also raise a rabbit or a few as well, OVER the worm bins (allowing for an efficient and clean rabbit pellet-dropping system). I think rabbits left free in the coop yard will dig massive dens in the dirt and underneath the coop, and make it hard to clean. “

Of course, I’m not keen on heating the coop beyond a heat lamp. This house has a utility room with room for such a setup (including rabbit). I just have to CLEAN IT.
LOL

The bummer since last October...  I haven't yet seen a cost return in raising chickens. It’s all been cost input- and often for nothing more than the learning experience in return due to molting, and cold, dark winter, molting, and the age of my chickens!
Not that there's a whole lot wrong with that, but love is not enough to justify such financial sacrifices… it’s about sustainability,
I admit, I have fallen into despair a couple of times, asking why DO I even bother with the efforts?! But it's a moot question, I simply must have them if for nothing more than a psychological  feeling of food security. Of course, it can be better than that!

Small scale backyard production of eggs has taught many a lesson in less than a year, and it’s not over yet by a long shot. There are still many options and changes to make that will move things in the right direction (of real security)!

After some consideration, taking on a flock of older hens like I did, wasn’t the biggest mistake I could make. 
Sure, I could’ve started out with new chicks ordered straight from the hatchery, but I wanted to start slow, to discover not only how to raise a flock, but to care for them. 
Chicks would’ve been starting off with zero confidence based on zero experience, a risk I wasn’t willing to jump into because that failure would’ve meant some chicks didn’t survive my learning curve!

Now I have learned that I LOVE having chickens. And that home-hatching was FUN, but has the consequences of roos… But which I believe can end up to be a bonus after all, if I buy pre-sexed chicks come spring (I can order what I’d like at the local feed store, rather than deal with a hatchery).
The only questions will be what breed? I'm considering Cochins or Opringtons.
(Advice and input much appreciated!)
 I am committed now to going ‘all in’.



The giant Cochin is a hardy breed, and so pretty to look at, and when they run it makes me laugh! But their thick, fluffy feathering inhibits egg fertility. Because of their feathering, it is sometimes necessary to clip some of the feathers (or some people resort to artificial insemination) to obtain ‘good rates of fertility’. 
Until today I have had only 2 hens are laying for the past 2 weeks...

Unless they all begin laying again- because Roo has been quite the cock ‘o the walk lately-there's little chance of my getting fertilized eggs. By next spring when the 3 new roos are ready, I doubt any of the cochins will be laying at all- I will have only ONE, the new chick, capable. 

But, I will continue to wait and hope!

If chickens lay about one egg every other day (more or less) a dozen chickens would provide six or seven eggs a day (40- 50 a week) – enough I’d only need to sell 1 dozen eggs a week to cover their feed bill, and 2 dozen a week to cover all costs: winter electricity for heat (one or two red lamps to keep the water from freezing and keep coop temp above freezing on the worst nights).

A dozen ‘certified organic’ large eggs sell for $4.28 at Wal-Mart now. They are often fertile, but they didn't hatch for me (maybe too cold for too long, or maybe it was the hen not turning them).

It's $5 a dozen for medium-sized homegrown eggs, not even certified organic- at the Farmer’s Market! Of course you’d have to sell 5 dozen to pay back the $25 tent/space rent first…and I’m not sure what the city sale permit costs but tack that on too.)


But we have a large subdivision and there are also others who want homegrown eggs…at $4. a dozen. One of our neighbors does that with regular customers - he's the one that gave me the 5 eggs to hatch.

------Update on the chicks:
At 6 weeks I put them into the rabbit hutch with their mother during the days. (Using a bird cage they would pile into, to transport them in one hand and the hen in my other arm). 

the bird cage to transport them

the old rabbit hutch in the shade

(in the hutch,  the 3 roo chicks sitting on top of the hen)

After that 1 week in the hutch I let them out of all enclosures to explore the world and integrate into the flock (they still slept together away from the flock). The old flock didn't pay any attention to them - except to actually NOT pay attention to them. ("I can't see you -if I don't look at you").

It was wonderful to see them enjoy their first sun and dust baths. They flopped down and wriggled and stretched. They looked mauled or dead. Then 10 or 30 seconds later they'd flop over to sun the other side. That's when I discovered the tuxedo-colored roo has that pretty purple iridescent sheen to his back feathers!


A few times it was funny as heck when they would lose sight of the mother hen. 

The second day free, another hen was in the henhouse setting on a nest (and remained there for hours- long after she'd laid her egg- I thought she might be going broody and I wasted 3 pre-gathered eggs in that hope – but she eventually got up, and all but one was eaten)!


Anyway, the 2 small roos were left behind in the coop because they were busy eating, and got confused when their mother was out of the coop and out of sight.
They walked up to the setting hen, all the way up to her face, to inspect her. You could tell they were perplexed - it looked like their mother, but she wasn't.
They just almost touched her with their beaks- faces inquiring hers- searching her features.
Then one roo jumped on her and began to pull the feathers of her head. She didn't move from the nest, and I shooed them outside. Naughty roos!

*notice the price of that chick feed went up by $3 in a week! 
The liquor bottle holds apple-cider vinegar for their water.
Look at all that straw/shavings dust! Gag.

Those same 2 roos are always together. They play-fight a bit, and I was worried for a while that they would injure themselves, since some feathers go flying, but I've noticed they also pal around and will sit right up next to each other a lot and they always sleep together too. It's pretty cute- they act like human brothers

Momma hen was still guarding them until 3 months old, and the chicks wanted to have her in their sights at all times. If she wandered off, they'd run after. She gave Tazz a very stern warning peck on his nose yesterday because he was too close and wouldnt' take MY warnings, lol.

And fortunately old Roo only makes noises like he's highly annoyed by their activity but doesn't bother them. And the big hens make it clear they don’t want to share: "I was here first!"

I can't see getting rid of any of them.

I 'play' food games with the chickens to tame them, or spend time cooing and petting them after they've bedded down. Old Roo now thinks he should be given snacks by hand. He's been feeling quite 'randy' lately and has attempted to put me in my place a couple times (jumping at me). It used to be that he did that only if I walked too fast around him. I think this time of year his 'machismo' feels a bit more threatened. I try to feed him something by hand daily so he can believe he's the KING... lol. Last thing I want is a fight with him- he's got those 3" spurs!

I'm noting their distinct personalities - and feel a bit like a little girl- as if they were dolls, and their coop is a playhouse. I'm always rearranging the furniture for them (nests, roosts, waterers, etc., changing my mind and moving things) and freshening their water containers like I were plumping-up doll pillows (just adding a slosh of apple-cider vinegar), and gathering grasses to present them with seed-heads, like I were laying out a tea set.

Maybe it’s silly, but it's all I have to do around here for fun (not counting PC time; I'm finishing up my Pirate story, and that's been fun).

But… it's not really all about chickens, or is it? 

Lately I’ve been consumed with current world finances, watching it all fall apart slowly. 
I’ve been searching for a reason to hope. I didn’t find it. We are mired in debt saturation, (personally, and every nation…) 

We, and the European Union are apparently on the same path that led to the economic and social crash-and-burn in the Soviet Union not that long ago. 

Some are saying we’ll get “biflation”: inflation in the things we need... deflation of the value of things we own, (including your worth in labor). 

Deflation and hyperinflation at the same time.. increasing taxation, and decreasing services for said taxation until the whole thing collapses.

Others say when the system crashes & government revenue tanks--- you have a currency crisis, trade war, collapse.

After a currency collapse, every major nation has broken up.

Most Recently the Soviet Union (divided into the Baltic states, Ukraine, George, and many new nations in former southern\central Russian Territories).
And Argentina. 

Before that it was Germany (which was divided into Poland, Baltic states, Czechoslovakia),

Long ago, the British Empire (Canada, Australia, India, South Africa).

And before that it was the Roman Empire.

Now the EU, the UK, and even England are as much at risk as we are -so it's informative to read about what is happening to the people on the street there these days.

Would the US will be any different? 

Some say we’ll end up like Japan (25+ years of stagflation so bad they call it the ‘lost’ generation.) Just like the U.S., they went into massive government stimulus, but in Japan, the people are savers—and they own their country’s debt. In America, the people are broke, and banks own the debt (thru Treasuries they traded to the Fed for their bad mortgage-backed securities). Many foreign countries bought bonds too- though recently they are dumping them!

There could be bank holidays and then martial law could be instituted for a while, (because of riots), and there probably would be rationing so as to prevent hoarding (minimizing desperation and fear that turns into looting). 

But it could get still ugly; they say it’s best to have a half years supply of food stored. Beans are cheap, and you might get tired of them - but they are better than chewing your fingernails!

One thing for SURE, eventually the great unwinding of $1,500,000,000,000,000.00 in derivatives will overwhelm the biggest banks and modern Gov’ts. Bank debt far exceeds what any Government holds - they can't be bailed out again! This is the first time in history that all countries are going broke together, even with all the Gov’ts doing everything they can to hold it together.had a better chance at survival on a personal/community level that we are looking at. 

I think downtown Detroit (1/2 the buildings empty and no public services), is an appropriate model of what our future may hold... this video shows city planning gone amuck, but you get the point loud and clear how BAD it is there…
The main point -  it helps to imagine what "a future of lack" really looks like in America....
A two-hour video of a middle-class man's observations as he wakes up and comes to grips with the reality of Peak 'Cheap' Oil, Climate Change, and the demise of the American lifestyle we have grown to expect. 

It makes today's problems seem almost minuscule in comparison to future scenarios. 
I FOUND IT DEVASTATING, but it's important knowledge - to brace ourselves, to prepare mentally for such a time coming. 

For years now we’ve been looking down that long black tunnel of unknowns, knowing the light we see at the end of it may simply be the light of an oncoming train. Questions edge their way into my consciousness: Is the train sitting idle on the tracks or is it steaming ahead at breakneck speed? 

These thoughts have been invading my peace of mind- but there's no way around it but to let them run their course. We can deal with each thing, each moment as it comes, if we're ready.

I may feel fragile or it may seem like “game over” sometimes, but there are other carousels and brass rings to catch hold of. Even if the rings are from the ancient past and are no longer shiny.
(Please don’t let that bright prize be the worm bins.)

The question that movie asks at the end is “what does a well-lived life look like” -and how do you get there?
The movie says it’s time to live with a greater intention of self-sustenance...and that it can be done... great advice, but I have proven it’s not really an intuitive adventure. It takes TIME, knowledge, skill, effort and very often money.

Um, yeah, I think I've proven that point.... 

Unfortunately I'm a dreamer and a geek more than a farm girl. Although it's in my heart, it's very hard to pull off! The heart and the brain so conspire to bring us our own special brands of misery, don't they? It's like the troubles from the world aren't quite enough to torture ourselves over.

I want so much to attain some semblance of sanity in a world gone insane. It keeps ME sane to focus on that... actions. Without actions, I feel overwhelmed and helpless- and HOPELESS.


I am seeking blue skies... 

So on that note, I'll get back to the original topic--





YES, it's all about keeping chickens, because that is something each of us can manage, but it's also about creating the best possible systems for keeping them and making it worth it - so they aren't one more drain on finances. 

I also discovered something called a "chicken moat", that I mentioned above. 
I had to look it up because I thought it might be silly to surround your chicken yard with a watery 'moat'. Good thing there's Google; I had to laugh at myself for my ignorance again- boy was I way off...

A chicken moat is not a watery boundary, it’s a "chicken run" that is a border around garden area, providing a protective shield around for the garden. Weeds, insects (grasshoppers too), rabbits, ground hogs and even deer are barred from entry by the double fencing (like an alley or a tube, or a dog run), and the hens are free to move all around the garden (but never in it). Like guard dogs. 
The entry for the chickens can be straight from their chicken yard area.  

See the article at Mother Earth News Mother Earth News
But it's a huge project, and NOT cheap... see a work in progress start – to finish. 

I'm excited about the idea- and hope one day to implement one. I wonder if I could add goats to the mix? Hmmmmmm...


Be like the Phoenix, to rise from the ashes (of circumstance)! 
May tomorrow bring us all a ray of sunshine and something to do.



2 comments:

Leigh said...

Like any learning curve, it's always the steepest in the beginning. My DH and I are calling it the establishment phase of our homesteading. We know our goal is to be sustainable and self-sufficient, but it takes a long time to get there. The sense of freedom from growing one's own food is priceless. You're not alone though; so many of us are struggling to succeed! Still, considering the condition of the world, what else can we do?

I don't have any experience with Cochins, but we got Buff Orpingtons last year and plan to stick with that breed. My broody Buff is still on her nest, tenaciously and hatching should be any day now. They're noisy chickens but the best dual purpose breed we've tried so far. I can't remember if you eat meat or not (not?), which always makes the roos welcome.

I did answer your question in my comments, but here's what I wrote. Hope it helps!

Those chickens are actually Barred Hollands. They look similar to Barred Rocks, except that the Rocks lay brown eggs, the Hollands lay white ones. The Barred Holland hens are darker than the rooster too.

The little roosters do grow combs and wattles faster than the pullets. A lot of them show a more aggressive personality. It takes longer for those long rooster like tail feathers to grow out. I've heard though, that it's sometimes hard to tell until about 5 or 6 months. More than one person I've read about has been surprised!

Illoura said...

Thanks Leigh!
I think my chick looks just like your Holland- I'm updating the blog with comparison pictures next post... between yours and mine.

I would be delighted to find out it's a rare breed, and even moreso to find out it's a hen, lol. It DID come out of a white egg, so I knew it couldn't be a Barred Rock. But the flock it came from was all kinds of breeds, so I figured it must've been a mix chick (a barred rock from white egg...a mix). So little do I know, you know!?

The more I learn about self-sufficiency, the more I feel it's out of our league entirely. Unless we want to live like Laura Ingalls. (No thanks). It would be good to have some backup systems in place, like food security, but beyond that- I don't know what all we can feasibly do. Solar is out of our price range for now...we rely on well water (that has sulphur and sometimes mysterious stuff in it- there are 5 gas wells within 1/2 mile of us). Even if we could arrange a non-electric pump we'd be up a creek without filters and chlorine pellets (or bleach). Things like that make it seem crazy to even try to be self-sufficient here - especially if drought becomes more permanent.
We're currently surrounded by 5 or 6 wildfires (15-40 miles away). The only thing blooming here is cactus!


I hate