It doesn’t seem that long ago that we had a horse trough full of baby chicks in the garage. The babes were moved out to pasture at a pretty young age, even I recognize that. They were only 6-7 weeks old, but with TWENTY FIVE space becomes a premium really quick. They absolutely love clover and really enjoyed being outside. Fast-forward to present. Everyone is about 12 weeks old and the chicken tractor was even getting tight. So… the ladies (or most of them) have been given free range status. That means we have 30 chickens (28 hens) free ranging. That is a LOT of chickens.
We spent all day Saturday building our first chicken tractor. And it turned out GREAT! I mean if it is still standing after 24 hours, that is success, right? I spent hours doing research and settled on a final design. (Yep, me. For those of you not familiar with me, this is a ridiculous concept to even comprehend. But so far, I think it is solid.). Eric let me take the reins and do it all. I made my overly simplified schematics, bought (some of the) supplies and recruited a building team (Eric). Everything went great… well there were some modifications to the designs. For example, I did not take into consideration the fact that we needed a door to have access to change their food and water. Had no idea how we were going to close the ends. You know, minor things. Here is the finished project. Not, ehhh?
The babies, now 6-7 weeks are outside and enjoying their new home. I have a feeling that it is slightly overwhelming, but so far so good. Like I said still, standing after 24 hours and no predators last night. Well, almost all the babies. Our Brahmas (the biggest breed we have) are quite a way from being completely feathered. And big… I have named the beast, “Methusala”.
The story of the babies is a sad, sad story, so I will spare you the details. But right now we have 25 chicks. This is a bit more than our original idea of 16, but what can you do. So with those 25, added to the 20 or so that we have at this moment (THIS moment) we have 44. (Ask me this afternoon and we should have 41.) Off to the fields for a leisurely day of gardening and processing. :)
I guess it is a good thing I went out of town when the first baby chickens arrived. Seemed there was some problem with shipping and it just took too long to get to us. We got hit hard and Eric had to play ICU for several days with grim results. We had about 60% mortality. We called the company and they shipped us the replacement chicks ASAP. And then some.
We ordered 20 and they threw in some extra so I think we have 24-25 babies at the moment.
We ORDERED 5 Speckled Sussex, 5 Dorking, 5 Light Brahma, 5 Silver-laced Wyandottes, a Columbian and a golden-laced Wyandotte, a White-faced Black Spanish, a Silver-Spangled Hamburg. And then there are some random birds that we have no idea what they are going
to turn into. Either way (I know my math is off) we have somewhere around 25 baby chicks. whew!
Funny – we have a HUGE light Brahma. I mean easily twice the size of the rest of the birds – and he was from the SECOND order. Eric has named him Huey. I prefer Lenny (because he reminds me of the big fellow from ‘Of Mice and Men’). Either way, he (probably a he) is gonna stay in the gene pool. We could have some new super-breed beast of Brahma!!! We’ll be taking orders soon.
So, so much has happened lately.
The Saga of the Chickens:
As Eric mentioned the Rhode Island Reds (a.k.a. “the Gingers”) have been laying up a storm! The Barred Rocks (a.k.a. “the Rockettes”) are getting close. Since my dad has moved in, one of his daily jobs is to go out and collect eggs. He loves it!
That is good news. The bad news is that the hawks are really taking their toll on the flock. In addition to Sweet Cheeks – which we now have decided was a hawk – we lost Ms. Dominique and Oprah. Life on the farm is tough, I am learning that and am reminded daily. We lost Ms. D a few weeks back, but Oprah was just last weekend. Eric rounded the corner just to see the hawk take her head and took off.
What to do??? Here I am standing in the driveway holding a dead chicken by the feet. Well, I decided since she had only been dead minutes and the hard part (“dispatching her head”) was already done, I’d try my hand at dressing my first chicken. I went to it the old fashioned way, (no scalder, no plucker) just lots of hard work and plucking with feathers stuck to every possible surface. Well, I got about 90% of the way through and called it done. (I have a whole new respect for chicken wings and the work that must go into getting those little buggers cleaned)! Next was to clean the inside, no problems there. At long last I held up my nearly dressed bird and thought, there is no way that this bird is going to waste. I showed Eric and we agreed that chicken was on Sunday’s supper menu. She dressed beautifully, with a think layer of fat, not like those weak things in the grocery stores. We roasted it up and after a heartfelt blessing, giving thanks for her service and sacrifice, dug in. I’m not gonna lie, it was a bit tough but the flavor was out of this world. This girl was 100% free range and over a year old (versus the commercial confinement birds that are processed at 6 weeks) so I can’t really fault her for that. We can celebrate the fact that she gave us dozens of delicious eggs and in turn, we gave her the best possible life we could. Most birds never get to roam wherever they want, scratch around all day, take dirt baths and do as they please. But dang, life on the farm IS tough.
The babies we hatched in late November are growing up so fast! We ended up with four pullets (girls) and four cockerels (boys). The winter has been so mild, we moved them outside mid-January and they have been out ever since. Tonight was a big night for the girls. They got moved into the big house. They are a bit on the small size but the chicken pen and run we have now is just too small. We shall see what tomorrow brings.
All this drama and we are crazy enough to do peeps all over again! I have ordered four of each: Speckled Sussex (girls), Light Brahama, Silver-Laced Wyandottes and Dorkings (straight run-meaning they are not sexed, you get what you get). I also added one of each: Columbian Wyandotte, a Black-faced Spanish, a Silver Spangled Hamburg and a Gold Laced Wyandotte (all girls). I know it seems like a lot and we already have a lot, but this is going to be our first attempt at meat birds. The hens will go into the egg production side, the roosters will end up in the freezer. Or at least that is the plan. They arrive this week so get ready for Chick Cam!
Ever wonder what chickens do in the hen house all day? Check out this time lapse video of the chicken coop to find out.