Animals


In my previous post, I mentioned that two of our chicks so far were blond and one was black.  This is fairly common for us because of the way our coops are set up. 

The three Buff Orpingtons are in their own coop in one part of the yard.  Because my sister doesn’t like eating fertilized eggs, those three hens don’t have a rooster with them. 

When we started keeping chickens again, after not having any for a long time, a friend gave us two roosters, one mostly pure Rhode Island Red (Jack) and one a mix of Rhode Island Red and Black Ausralorpe (Chubb).  We were also given chickens from two different people.  One flock was pure Black Ausralorpe; the other was a Black/Red mix. 

Anyone who’s kept chickens knows that when you have two different flocks, it’s almost impossible to combine them into one flock without bloodshed.  So, almost from the beginning, we’ve been working with three different coops. 

As we’ve hatched out chicks and our flocks have changed around, the different breeds have gotten mixed up, as well.  The Buffs are still purebred, but none of the new chicks will be.  Victoria (the new mother) is a pure Ausralorpe, as is Meggie, but they share a coop with Jack, the Rhode Island Red rooster.  And some of the chicks she’s hatching out come from the third flock, which is a Rhode Island Red/Black Ausralorpe blend. 

As a result, the chicks that are hatching are cross breeds.  Some are more Reds (the blond chicks), and some are more Blacks (the black chick), but none of them are truly purebred. 

At some point, I would like to raise chicks that are either primarily Buff Orpingtons, or else pure Buffs.  For now, though, without a Buff Orpington rooster, and with the Buff eggs unfertilized, anyway, that just isn’t feasible. 

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As far as I know, there are three chicks now, two blond, one black.  The blond ones are more Rhode Island Red (from the rooster); the black one is more Black Ausralorpe.  Sadly, the Buff Orpingtons are separate, and don’t have a rooster with them, so none of the chicks will be Buffs.  (Can you tell which breed is my favorite?) 

The black one was being shy, and one of the blond ones disappeared back under Victoria before I could get the camera, but the third chickie was a little camera hog. 

Shy at first:

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No, wait–here I am! 

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Victoria didn’t seem to mind the pictures too much, but I didn’t want to disturb her with the flash, so I didn’t try to take too many. 

If you look close, you can see the black chick behind the blond one in the second picture. 

We had our first chick hatch out this morning!  I only caught a glimpse of its little head poking out from its mother and heard its cheeping. 

Victoria started setting on the one egg, and we didn’t put the other dozen under her until she had been on the first egg overnight, to make sure she was actually setting.  I expect the others will start hatching out tomorrow.  I know not all of them will hatch, because some of the eggs have broken over the weeks.  Last time I had a hen setting on a dozen eggs, some broke and some never hatched, and we got five chickens (one rooster and four hens) out of the clutch.  I’m hoping we’ll have a similar rate of success this time. 

We have some fabric that was given to us that is some of the ugliest fabric ever created.  (And it was given to us for just that reason, so no worries that I’m offending anyone by saying that.)  

The point is, it was free and useful.  In fact, just yesterday, my sister used a large piece of it to “carpet” the ramp in the chickenhouse.  (Their roost is raised up off the ground, for critter protection, and the ramp helps them get up to it.)  The older chickens, who can pretty well fly (well, flap, anyway) can get up it okay, but when Tory’s babies hatch out, I’m afraid it will be too steep for them.  Having fabric on the ramp instead of slick wood will give something for their little toes to grip to get back into the safe place. 

 Similarly, the fabric comes in handy when I’m putting a patch under embroidery on my jeans.  You never see the fabric, so it doesn’t matter how ugly it is.  But it gives a solid base to anchor the embroidery to.  You don’t get very far when you try to embroider in a hole! 

Frugality to me means using whatever you have, and if you can get something for free, finding a use for it.  This isn’t fabric I would want to wear or turn into items around my house, but it has use and purpose and value–when you take the time to see them. 

I was a bit disappointed last week to discover that chickens won’t eat kudzu.  Other animals will (goats, for example, love kudzu), but not chickens, even though they like their greens as well as the next animal. 

Part of the problem may have been that I boiled the kudzu leaves before giving them to the chickens.  Kudzu has many uses (I must post about them someday…) but there’s plenty of it growing along the sides of the road–I don’t want it taking over my house and garden!  Unfortunately, boiled kudzu doesn’t seem to appeal to chickens. 

If we ever decide to bite the bullet and get a goat, we could feed him year-round on kudzu, if we took the time and trouble to store kudzu hay for the winter.  Kudzu is tremendously nutritious (and I happen to think it tastes rather good), even better than alfalfa when it comes right down to nutrient content. 

But chickens won’t eat it. 

It finally rained today, a nice steady gentle rain.  It was exactly what we needed–exactly what I needed. 

I promised a few days ago that I’d write another post on the specifics of keeping chickens.  Chickens are wonderful for anyone who is looking at keeping animals for food, because 1) they eat so little, 2) they take up so little room, and 3) you don’t have to kill them to get food out of them. 

First of all, where can you keep chickens?  The answer is almost anywhere.  Even tiny pockets of yard can be fenced in and given a little roof to protect the birds from rain and hot sun.  A fence is necessary to keep neighborhood cats and dogs out and chickens from getting run over or leaving little presents all over your yard.  It’s important for chickens to have a little room to scratch. 

What kind of chickens should you get?  If you have the choice, Buff Orpingtons are a large, docile chicken with soft golden feathers.  Their gentle nature makes them an excellent choice for families.  Plus, they’re excellent layers. 

 What should you feed your chickens?  Chickens will eat almost anything–table scraps, grain, even dog food.  But if you want the best egg production, consider going down to your local co-op and picking up a bag of laying pellets.  (Be sure you get the pellets; laying crumbles tend to get lost and wasted.)  Give each chicken a handful of laying pellets and a couple of handfuls of kitchen scraps per day, and reap the rewards in eggs and black gold for your garden. 

 How many chickens can you keep?  An eight-by-ten enclosure will hold three to five hens, or even a couple more, depending on their size.  And the average Buff Orpington hen will give you five to six eggs a week during all but the hottest summer months. 

Do you need a rooster?  That depends.  If you have room, and you want to produce fertile eggs and raise chicks, you’ll need a rooster.   But hens will lay just as well–and sometimes even better–without a rooster.  And if space is limited, or you don’t want to keep a chicken that isn’t going to produce food for you, a rooster will be a liability. 

Similarly, you don’t want to keep a rooster if you live in a crowded suburb.  Their cock-a-doodle-do is the epitome of the farm and country living, but neighbors tend to frown on a rooster crowing from 4:00 or so until daybreak or later. 

Chickens are worth their weight in gold.  I have eight hens and two roosters in different coops.  I get an average of six eggs a day, or a dozen eggs every two days, which is plenty for our family to eat and give to friends and family.  And that’s to say nothing of the fertilizer for our garden.  When your clean out your chicken coop, put the manure in a pile to the side of your garden, cover it with leaves, and let it sit for a couple of months.  The result will be a fabulous rich soil that you can spread over your garden for the best vegetables you’ve ever tasted. 

One of our hens, Victoria, is setting.  She has 13 eggs under her, so we’re hoping for 6 or 7 chicks.  She just looks so pretty there on her grass nest, with that fanatic bug-me-and-I’ll-peck-your-head-off gleam in her eye.  I can’t wait for the chicks to start hatching.  I love babies! 

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