What You Doin?

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On Christmas Day we got a lovely surprise from 2 of our pullets, their first eggs.  This was very exciting considering I wasn’t expecting anything until at least February.

When a pullet begins to lay her first eggs, those eggs are quite small, it takes several cycles for those eggs to reach their normal size.  You cannot incubate eggs from a pullet, they are too small, the Chick would be at a disadvantage to thrive.  So, my pullets starting to lay now is a good thing for me, it means those eggs will be ready to go in the incubator sooner than I thought.

Encouraging a Pullet to Lay her Egg in the Right Spot

A Heritage bred pullet takes longer to develop than an Industrial bred pullet, about 5-9 months old.  When my pullets are around 5 months old, I put golf balls in the nesting boxes.  Golf balls in the nesting boxes look like eggs to the chickens.  Whenever you add something “new” to the coop, they all notice and chickens are very curious.  When you put the golf balls in the boxes, it is something new in their space, they are going to go over and check them out.  The balls sitting in this secluded box, nestled up in the bedding triggers their instinct and sometimes you’ll even see your pullets get into the box, move the “egg” around with their beak and they may even try to sit upon them.  This feels “right” to them, their instinct has been triggered and now they know where to go to lay their egg when they feel this new compulsion.

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So far all the pullets are laying them in the right spot.  I have also noticed that the breeds newly laying are the Marans and Welsummers, not any of my Ameraucanas.  My first year, my Ameraucanas did not lay until February, so maybe that breed is a late layer, I’ll surely find out!

When a hen is in the nesting box, all the other hens like to be nosy and see what she is up to, this is another method for a pullet to understand what a nesting box is for.  I have added a curtain to the front of my nesting box, it provides privacy for the hen, plus it offers the darkened space she looks for when looking for a safe and secluded spot to lay her eggs.  The first picture in this article shows a pullet peeking in on another pullet readying to lay an egg.

We are accepting Reservations for chicks on January 1, (ending in March), get yours in before the list fills up for the season!

 

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Let me Introduce You…

Wow, Christmas has come and gone already, all that preparation and it is over.  Hopefully everyone had a great Christmas, our little family here had a great day, the kids were pretty happy with everything they got.  A couple of our pullets surprised us with their first eggs on Christmas morning, including one of my new Marans, beautiful chocolate colour.

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I got a new incubator, I ordered it through Berry Hill out of Ontario and it holds up to 70 eggs, so I am pretty excited about the upcoming season.  The website is updated and we now have a Facebook page, so we are ready to get the 2017 season started!

I would like to dedicate the next few posts to introducing you to my flock. I’ll start with my Black Ameraucanas.

Let me introduce my breeding rooster, Charlie.

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Charlie was the first chicken we got, and he is the sole reason for Down by the Bay Backyard Poultry. Over the past 2 years I have witnessed him do incredible things.  He became my pet and I would try to give him treats only to watch him cluck away, calling to his hens to come over, then he’d use his beak to show them the treats and let them eat it.  One day I found him in the nesting boxes, he’d get in, walk in circles like a dog would before they sit comfortably down, sit, then out of the box, then back in, all the time chatting away loudly. I watched him, trying to figure out what the heck he was doing.  By this time, all the Ameraucana pullets had gathered around, then one of the pullets got in the box with him and I understood, he was showing the pullets the nesting boxes.  As the pullets grew older they began to bicker with each, sometimes it would get a bit physical, Charlie would run over and using his wing he would separate the 2 fighting hens then give them each a good rap on the head as if to say “smarten up!”.  I had a few other roosters in our first year from the chicks we had raised, so when I decided to breed, I put Charlie in a breeding pen with a few hens.  I watched my rooster change from that move.  He began to slouch, no longer standing proud, he became more agitated and would kick me when I came into the breeding pen and I thought, wow, I think he is depressed.  I no longer trusted him and worried about him attacking me if I let him back out into the run, so he remained in the breeding pen in the coop until additional pens were built outside.  Cletus, who is a giant marshmallow took over the coop’s run and we finally moved Charlie out to a new breeding pen with some hens.  Long story short, add some new cockerels to the big run with a marshmallow rooster named Cletus and you have complete chaos.  The only rooster who could bring law and order back to the main run was Charlie.  I swapped Charlie and Cletus and in quick order Charlie had all those cockerels behaving themselves, or he’d kick their asses!  He stood prouder and became himself again and I learned that even Chickens experience sadness, happiness, disappointment and pride.  He is quiet, yet unyielding, he is kind, yet stern and he demands respect, I wish I could be more like him.

The Pullets

Loretta: She is the boss lady and she adores Charlie.  She follows Charlie around like a puppy and grooms his beard for him, he is the only chicken she is nice to.  If another hen comes near her, she lashes out with a quick peck and screech.  She has been known to literally throw hens off of the top roost if they dare try to perch near her. She actually struts around with her wings slightly out, like some tough guy would.  She doesn’t like to be held and will occasionally nip at you if you even think about reaching out to her for an affectionate human squeeze.

Harriot:  She is the opposite of Loretta, she is and always has been a sweet lady.  She’ll hang around you when you’re in the coop working and she’ll look up at you with her cute little face and it is impossible to resist picking her up for a hug, and she loves it.  She also loves Charlie and is very loyal to him, giving other roosters a karate kick if they get the wrong idea.

Hilda: She is a big ol gal who takes crap from no one, she is the only one who is able to sit near Loretta, simply because she just doesn’t care and knows she is bigger than her.  She will tolerate her human, but prefers to be where the human is not.  I have seen her beat the daylights out of an over eager cockerel when he thought he’d have a go at her.  She’s a neat Chicken who could inspire many story lines.

Tilly:  Tilly is quiet and stealth, I rarely see her, she goes about her day minding her own business and staying out of everyone’s way.  She is so good at it that she is able to get away with a lot, as far as the pecking order goes.  She’ll find a spot on the roost away from the others so they don’t bug her, she is probably the smartest one of the bunch.

Mabel: Mabel likes to test the waters a bit, she is not afraid to sit up next to a hen who is ranked above her.  She’ll tolerate some pecks on the head and back, almost as if she is hoping it will end soon and they’ll leave her be, sitting pretty on some good roost real estate.  She is a fiesty low ranking hen with ambition, who is not afraid to throw a bit of shade at anyone questioning her potential.

Those are my Ameraucana breeding birds for 2017.

 

 

 

 

Winter is Here!

As I write this, it is -13 outside with 100 km/hr winds, and chickens enjoy the cold as much as we do!

Even though there are cold hardy breeds which are better suited to tolerate our Canadian winters, all chickens have vulnerabilities and they do require some care during the cold months.

Chickens do not enjoy getting wet or being pushed around by high winds, and really..who does!  Chickens require shelter to get out of the weather and that shelter needs to be dry and well ventilated, because the biggest threat to chickens in the winter is frost bite.

Their feet and comb are especially prone to the cold, so keeping the bedding in your coop dry protects their feet and a bit of Vaseline rubbed into their comb and wattle protects that delicate flesh from the bites of Old Man Winter.

During the winter I employ the Deep Litter Method in my coop.  This means that you are not going to clean out the bedding until spring.  Instead you are going to keep the same bedding all winter and in doing so you’ll be creating a symbiotic environment within that bedding which is going to help keep your Chickens comfortable during these cold months.  The symbiotic relationship is between your chickens’ waste and bacteria, “good” bacteria.

During the day your chickens will be doing what chickens do, eat, crap, scratch and socialize; all this activity will turn some of those poops into much smaller pieces, that’s the stuff that the bacteria will feed from.  To keep your coop tidy, you will have to daily remove the bigger lumps, which in the winter is super easy cause it is frozen 😉  Every morning I clean up obvious lumps using a kitty litter slotted scoop and a pail.  As I sift through the bedding, I am also turning that bedding over, and in doing so I am adding oxygen, the “good” bacteria requires oxygen to survive.  As the bacteria lives and thrives, it gives off some heat into the bedding that acts like insulation and helps keep your chickens comfortable during the winter.  After I have tidied the coop, I throw down some clean shavings, this is going to help keep your bedding dry, which is essential in protecting your birds from frost bite.

If you are doing the method correctly, your coop will not stink to high heaven 🙂

In the glorious spring, you can take all that bedding out and put it right into your garden, win-win-win!

Water is another essential in the winter, and it is important that it is readily available and unfrozen. If you are away at work, there are electric, heated waterers available.  You can also make your own heater using a cookie tin, lamp kit and a light bulb.  If you are around during the day you can check their water supply throughout the day; also the black rubber livestock bowls work great.  Pour some heated water in them, the rubber will retain the heat and the day’s sun will also help keep the water thawed.

Lice is also a winter problem, you would think it would be less of an issue because of the cold, but it tends to be a bigger problem for me in the winter.  Sometimes having a dirt bath available to them at this time of year is difficult, so regular maintenance care of parasite control is essential.  Pick a day once every 2 weeks and give your chickens a dusting with lice powder from your local farm store.  Pick a day once a week and rub down the legs of your birds who are showing signs of leg mites.

Before you know it, the snow will melt and the warmer breezes will be back.

But first, the very best time of year is almost here…

HAPPY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

I am Not a Chicken Farmer

 

Wednesday of last week marked the end of my 2016 season.

The tough part of Poultry ownership and breeding is dealing with too many roosters.  Part of my learning curve was realizing that offering coop-ready pullets came with some baggage.  One bag being lots of roosters, because 50% of your hatch are going to be male.

This was extra problematic for me because I have an extra large soft spot for roosters.  They each have their individual personalities and I hand raise all my birds, so I spend a lot of time getting to know them.   It takes at least 6 months to get a Heritage chicken to a decent weight for the table.  So I am spending 6 months with all these boys and man that makes it really tough to send them off to the processor.

My last 8 boys went on Wednesday and it was difficult to load them into the crates and leave them sitting ready beside bay doors with the smell of what was coming hitting their senses.  When I went to pick them up at the end of the day, I was told one of them didn’t make it out of the processing line.

This is the part where I felt something, and it is something I have never experienced before, and I didn’t even know if I wanted to confess this at all.  But when she told me this, I felt a sting in the back of my eyes, I walked back to my car, with the kids in the back seat and I sat there for a moment trying to process how I felt.  I mean it was an accident, I wasn’t mad, but I was really sad.  Why, why was I so stupid sad about that!

I was sad because I helped him out of his egg, raised him until he could go outside and enjoy the grass, sun and ocean breeze. I carried him from the coop to the tractor each morning and from the tractor to the coop each night.  I visited him several times a day to make sure he was getting along with his siblings, his water was clean and he had food. As he got older, I’d bring him treats and watch him being a Chicken as I drank my coffee, all of us enjoying a summer’s day. The days then got shorter and colder and he looked forward to seeing me and waiting for me to pick him up and carry him back to the comfort of the coop each night.

What made me sad was that I wasn’t going to be able to honour his life through nourishment.  I was upset that I wasn’t going to be able to bring him home.

This first season for me was a learning season and the big thing I learned was that with kindness and respect, roosters are amazing.

I was lucky this season to find homes for 9 roosters, last season I found homes for 8 roosters, so my goal in the up coming season would be to have no more then 10 roosters available and I hope to not have to go to the processor again.

Through this experience I have learned that I am not a chicken farmer.  I am a chicken breeder.

I have just finished re-writing my website for the new season.  I have a new focus and new goals.

No pullets,  just chicks and amazing Guardian and Breeding roosters.

My first goal is to find everybody a home.

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Who Knew Buying Eggs Could Make a Man so Annoyed!

My mother gave me 2 pieces of marital advice, 1st, they can only kill you once and 2nd, you don’t have to tell them everything!

At first your intention to get some chickens to provide your family with some homegrown eggs seemed like a great idea and maybe you had convinced your significant other that it made economical sense as well.

In our house it was me that had to be convinced, but then I pulled the trigger a little early and in the middle of winter decided I had to have this lovely rooster on UsedPEI.  Then the rooster was lonely and needed at least 2 hens for company.  They lived in the garage all winter and my husband was plenty happy to build them something and get them out of his garage.  Now the next part is his fault, he has the tendency to go all in and do things BIG, knowing this I thought, what the heck, lets see how big I can get him to build it.  We agreed at 12ft by 8ft, hahahaha.  Well you start with your basic building supplies, then he tweaks it, and tweaks it until this epic coop is costing out at least $2500.  Now I had already reserved my “special” blue egg laying chicks as well as a few others from a breeder in New Brunswick …. at $10 each.  New Brunswick: $45 bridge fee, plus gas, plus lunch plus Costco… Now things were adding up, these were going to be the most expensive eggs we’d ever eat.  Then I fell in love with raising these curious little feathered critters, who knew chickens could be so much fun.  Then the next phase sets in, I must have more.  

Do you know how expensive an incubator is!  We seen a video on how to make your own for $20, apparently that was in the USA, because ours cost $45.  After hatching 4 chicks, I found a new love, raising baby chicks.  I needed a proper incubator, $400 later I have my incubator, now we are in really deep, the eggs just keep getting more expensive and I think my husband is having some regrets, but I’m happy and he reminds himself that “happy wife =happy life”.

My husband has been a wonderful sport about it all and I am putting in my very best efforts to have my birds pay a bit, so raising heritage chicks for sale is a good fit, but every year I need more stock, and let me tell you, that is also expensive!

I am now up to 30 birds and they need about $30 a week in feed and shavings and boy that makes my man groan in agony every time I need to go to the Farm Store. My mother’s advice, that they don’t need to know everything… I have employed that when I need more feed and don’t want to listen to him gripe, I just sneak to the store, get the feed and he never knows, shhh.

This past summer I added 2 new breeds to my plans, this means I need another incubator.  Remember… originally this was his idea!

And… there’s more:

News Flash, hens need about 14 hours of day light to maintain their egg cycle, so winter equals less light which equals no eggs.  Yes that is right, no eggs.  In fact no eggs for over a month now.  Egg Batteries have the lights on all the time, making those hens pump out eggs like a machine.  This is hard on their system, they need a break, give their system time to recover, that’s why nature does that in the first place.  Battery hens have a life span of 2-3 years, a natural hen has a life span of 7-12 years.  As you can see, we have invested enough money in these birds, so the break in their egg production is important in maintaining their health and longevity.  I remind my husband of that when he is cursing my chickens up and down cause they are not laying any eggs.

Yesterday we had to buy eggs.

He can only kill me once 🙂