Chickens, Chickens, Everywhere

Where did the last month go? We’ve been busy with chickens, among other things. I had been fretting about our rooster-to-hen ratio (the roosters get aggressive with the hens if there are too few hens to go around) — even with rehoming one of our roos to a friend’s flock who needed a leader, that still left me with Red and the two surprise boys from this spring’s chicks. And only eight girls. So when Rita went broody AGAIN, I quickly placed an order for some Black Sex-Link pullets. The breed is a cross between Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks, and the chicks can be told apart (male vs female) at hatching, based on feather color. Rita took right to her adopted babies and has been an excellent mother the past three weeks. They’re living in the mini-coop but come out during the day, so I’m hoping they’ll integrate into the rest of the flock fairly seamlessly.

What else? The garden is looking nice — the other day, we picked a load of cucumbers, the first few cherry tomatoes, and I dug up a small potato plant that had already died back. And the broccoli is ready for picking! Our second round of strawberries is ripening, but we’re fighting the slugs for them. The raspberries were amazing this year, but they’re more or less done now. I gave the girls a pail with raspberries the other day, and they fed them all to the chickens! I guess that’s how you know they’ve had their fill of berries for the season.

We picked up a set of the IKEA “Perler” beads (they’re a bit lighter weight than real Perler beads, but they’re also cheaper!), and M loves them. We sit together at the big table and work on them together, which I think is a big part of the draw. And I finished the floors downstairs! I still have a few bits to do (quarter-round in the girls’ rooms, painting the big window in the family room, gluing down transition strips), but the floors themselves are down, which is a big relief. They — along with painting all the trim white — really transformed the lower level. It feels so clean and fresh now!

Roosting Babies

It seems like the young chickens are getting along a little better with the big ones. They’re still pretty timid around the big guys, but the hens mostly leave them alone, and even Red seems indifferent to their presence now. The chicks have been roosting up with everybody else when I go in to close their door at the end of the day. I love seeing chickens all lined up for the night! From left to right: Veggie Bite, Poppy, Beatrice (a boy), Tofu, Sally, Jellybean (a boy). Eddie is currently alone in the little coop because he and Jellybean fight too much, but Eddie will be going home with friends this weekend. Their flock needs a rooster, and he needs to stay away from other boys!

Home Again!

We capped off our mini-adventure with a visit to the Shepherd’s Harvest Festival (which you can still go to today, Sunday, if you’re in the Twin Cities area). It was great! I can’t believe how many fiber producers/artists there are in the Minnesota/Wisconsin area. F was delighted by the sheep, and M was all about the bunnies. Which plays nicely into my “plan” to become a merino/angora fiber farmer. M was a little disappointed that we didn’t bring a bunny home, but what she REALLY wanted was a spinning wheel. If only she were a little older! I had a tough time picking out just a few things to buy from the vendors, but I came home with some wool roving (to make another felted play scene for the girls), a bit of yellow silk roving, green banana silk fibers, some mohair curls (for peg doll hair), and a basket from Ghana. This is my third basket like this, although this one is “for the girls”.

It was fun to return home and see how things had grown over the past few days. Those strawberry plants are looking good (well, the cheaper ones are — the ten that were more expensive may or may not be donefer). I got more hardware cloth to put on the sides of the “cage” I’ve built to go over the strawberries. It probably won’t keep mice/shrews out, but at least it’ll stop birds eating our berries.

The chickens are coming up nicely in the front flower garden. That’s one of their favorite places to roll in the dirt. I need to get some more in to fill in all the holes they’ve made. The little chicks are in the big coop now (with some pieces of plywood to hide under), and everybody seems to be doing okay. They definitely prefer to stay under cover until the big chickens exit the premises, though. At this rate, by the time they muster up the courage to go outside, they’ll know for sure that the coop is “home”!

Meeting

I opened the door to the chicks’ coop yesterday and let them mingle with the big chickens. When I put the chickens away in the evenings, the hens always parade through the usually-closed-off-barn (Red opts to go around outside and come in through the pop door, directly into the coop), so the two flocks have seen each other in passing. There wasn’t any fuss yesterday. A couple of the hens welcomed themselves into the chicks’ coop and settled into the nesting boxes — I guess chickens have good memories, as it’s been almost a year since they had access to this coop! The chicks weren’t sure what to think when they walked up the ramp and saw fluffy Rita in their bedroom. Anyway, I’m glad there hasn’t been any tussling between chicks and chickens. Next week is supposed to be rainy, so I think it’ll be time to move the chicks to the big coop and leave the run closed for a while.

I still haven’t planted anything but perennials. Yesterday, we planted some shasta daisies and strawberries that my aunt gave to M. I’ve got an order of strawberry plants coming (today!), which will go in the big garden, but we put M’s in the little flower garden out front. Last week, I found an old bird cage nailed to our “shack”, and it’s the perfect little fence to keep the chickens away from M’s strawberries.

I think it’s probably safe to get seeds and potatoes in the ground. I was ready almost a month ago, and then a real cold snap came through, and it was so rainy for a while. But it’s time to get going!

Yesterday’s egg count: three.

Beardy Beatrice

I finally got a good photo of Beatrice’s beard. I wish M would let me rename Beatrice. Maybe I’ll just call him “B”. Anyway, it’s very floofy, isn’t it? He went for a ride on the stroller handle yesterday. Such a nice young chicken.

Three eggs yesterday, two today. I wonder when the new pullets will start laying — I’m guessing September. Hopefully they’ll lay well throughout their first winter, the way our older hens did. We do like our fresh eggs!

Chickens and Ponies

No egg count today! The hens hadn’t laid any when I went it to check on them this morning, and it was so miserable outside (blustery and snowy/rainy — happy May Day!) that I didn’t let them out of their coop, so I didn’t go out again to collect eggs. I did spend some time socializing with the young roosters — trying to keep them friendly. The chicks are still in the small coop, but I brought Beatrice and Jellybean to the big coop to see what the grown chickens would make of them. (They weren’t sure what Beatrice was, if their alarm was anything to go by!) Assuming Eddie becomes head rooster of the younger flock, I’ll probably build a small bachelor pad for the other two boys. But Eddie has been aggressive with me for a while — charging the mesh sides of the brooder coop when I get close — and I don’t love that behavior. If he doesn’t shape up, I might not keep him, which could mean that the other two boys (Jellybean and Beatrice) would stay with the flock. Three roosters (including Red) for eight hens isn’t great, but it might work?

We went out in the brisk May weather to get some shopping done, and I let M pick out a toy. She’s all about ponies right now! I don’t think she’s seen more than a few minutes of My Little Pony, but she loves the toys. She’s spent the last hour jumping on a mattress on the floor with her new pony. Whatever keeps her busy! Now it’s time for us to read the last chapter of Little House in the Big Woods. Good night!

No More Broody

Well, Rita has snapped out of her broodiness, it appears. Thank goodness! She was much more determined last year and wouldn’t give up until I let her hatch some eggs (one of which was Red!). I wonder how many other broody hens I’ll have to deal with before the end of the summer.

No eggs today! What a bunch of lazy chickens.

Another Rooster

Three eggs yesterday, one today. I caught Jellybean (above) crowing today. I mean, I was 95% sure he was a rooster, but I was still clinging to a shred of hope. I haven’t heard Beatrice crow, but I have no doubt that he’s a he, too. So three baby roosters and HOPEFULLY four pullets (young female chickens). I ordered only one roo, and I’m really not sure what I’ll wind up doing with two more. I don’t trust four roosters with eight hens in a coop (the roosters get aggressive with the hens when the ratio is that poor), so what — build a bachelor pad? Right now Beatrice and Jellybean are the friendliest of any of my chickens (young roosters often are, but Eddie is not!), but that might change as they mature. I’m not so sure the neighbors will want more of my roosters!

Baby Rooster

Little Beatrice. M is still adamant that we call him that, despite his almost-certain roosterness. Check out this little video clip of Eddie “crowing”. I could hardly believe it! Out of all our male chicks last summer (and they were ALL male), none of them crowed so early. They were all practically full-grown, and their crows sounded, you know, like actual rooster crows. This group of chicks has been feisty from the start, and Eddie is showing a lot of rooster behaviors already. When I fed them yesterday, he rushed over and started tidbitting (telling the others he had found good stuff to eat) in his little baby voice. He’ll even get between me and the other chicks when I visit. At least I know he’ll defend the flock when he grows up!

(Two eggs today. Rita’s not laying because she’s broody, so the other three must be taking turns having a day off.)

Tuesday

Two eggs today, including one that had white speckles! It’s common for the brown eggs to have darker brown specks; I’ve heard it explained as the brown being color laid down over the white egg shell, and the darker speck are like “overspray” (though I can’t quite figure out how that works, as I assume there’s not actually an airbrush inside every hen). So white specks? That’s a new one for me!

The chicks are adjusting well to their little coop out in the barn (a halfway house until they’re big enough to go in with the rest of the chickens). They don’t usually hang out in the nesting boxes, but I opened the hatch up there to talk with Jellybean, and soon they’d all come up to see what was happening. I’m a little concerned that Sally (the buff chick above) has a bit of color to her comb, as does Tofu. (Veggie Bite and Poppy do not.) It would be really bad luck for four out of six supposed pullet chicks to turn out to be roos, but then it’s pretty bad luck for two out of the six, and I’m fairly confident that Beatrice and Jellybean are both boys. If I ever order chicks again, I might have to get a sex-linked breed (one with an obvious difference between male and female) to avoid this stage of not-knowing-ness.

We had one last nice day before an expected string of cold, rainy days, so M and I got out and enjoyed it. I’m usually fairly patient in spring (this is Minnesota, after all), but I want the weather to shape up, so I can get to planting!