Monday, June 30, 2008

Someone is Asking for a Good Old Fashioned Tail Whooping

Lucy, my little White Faced Black Spanish, is really turning into a bit of a bully. She is constantly pecking the snot out of me, dive bombing the other chickens, and lately she's been challenging Duke - a rooster who is easily twice her size. Duke stands up to her, but he doesn't seem to take her too seriously. I've told Lucy that Duke is going to kick her scrawny tail feathers across the chicken yard, but she pays no attention to me whatsoever.

Since Duke found his voice and started crowing, he has really been acting like the alpha rooster. It is really fascinating watching the pecking order take shape in our chicken yard. Interestingly enough, not only do the roosters have a pecking order, but there is a pecking order among the hens as well. As the chickens attempt to work out these social structures, you can imagine the chest bumping, puffing, and challenges that are now routinely occurring.

Bobby Lee is not quite developed enough to make much of an impression as a rooster so, at least for now, the title of alpha rooster belongs to Duke. Lucy is trying her hardest to make a bid for the alpha hen, and by the looks of it, she has a good chance. I haven't really seen any other hen challenge Duke. I suspect if Lucy weren't so darn cute, Duke would have already had her for breakfast.

Here's a short video of Lucy challenging Duke. It's interesting to me that Bobby Lee runs up to watch the whole thing from the side lines. Duke is the big one that takes off after a Silver Leghorn - and then gets challenged by Lucy, the mostly black one. Duke almost trips over those huge feet of his, but recovers in time to stare Lucy down:

I've been following Duke around with a video since Saturday morning when he first crowed. He is camera shy and will not make a peep when I have the camcorder rolling. He crowed this morning as I opened up the coop, but when I grabbed the camcorder he got completely silent. I'm determined to capture it, but it looks like it may take a little bit. While I still believe his first few crows were beautiful Saturday morning, I have to tell you that he seems to have forgotten what he did. He now sounds like he is getting over a bad case of laryngitis. His beautiful "cock-a-doodle" now sounds like "erk-er-ererererk". In his defense, it is still quite loud.

MissPrissy, from Backyard Chickens, posted a recipe for making home made yogurt. I made some yesterday, and I have to tell you this is the BEST yogurt I have ever eaten. I mixed in some of my Raspberry Jam Syrup, and it was wonderful. The recipe is simple and the ingredients are easy to find. If you're interested, check it out. This recipe makes plain, non-flavored yogurt. If you like flavored yogurt, just add a little jam, granola, honey, or whatever you desire.

Bernie is finished with all the fence posts for the front and back yard. Tomorrow he will start stringing the fencing wire. Those rolls of wire are really heavy and difficult to manage. He and Tex made a really cool "spool" for the wire today that should help Bernie a good bit. I'll take pictures of it and post them later this week.

I have a list a mile long of things I need to do this week. I might actually accomplish some of them if I weren't busy following Duke around with a camcorder. I sat with him for over an hour this afternoon before supper, and all he did was sleep on my lap. He is such a little sweetheart - I just wish he's crow for my camcorder dad gummit! I'm sure he sits up all night crowing. And laughing at me.

Bee Free,

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cock-a-Doodle - huh??????

Between four and five weeks old, Duke starting doing this weird thing where he would raise his head high and move his beak in a distinctively cock-a-doodle-do sort of way - but nothing would come out. He would move his beak, but not a sound would escape. Bernie swore he was practicing crowing. At that early age, I had my doubts.

This morning I went and picked some raspberries while Bernie finished putting in his last corner posts for the fence. We finished about the same time, and decided to sit on the front steps and cool off with some ice water. We were watching the chickens peck around, and Bernie said "Did you see that? Duke just tried to crow again." I rolled my eyes, and at exactly that moment, Duke stuck his head high in the air and let out a loud, distinct, and crystal clear "COCK-A-DOODLE...." - and scared the bird poop out of all the hens and himself. They all took off screaming, flying, and running to the other end of the coop. I'm not sure who looked more terrified - the hens or Duke.

I couldn't believe it. His crow was beautiful! It wasn't at all the scratchy, crackling, strangling noise I expected. It wasn't quite a full crow, but he sure nailed the first part of it. Within a just a few moments, he let out another. And then another. COCK-A-DOODLE......

I ran in to get the small camcorder I ordered and received this week. I followed Duke for at least 20 minutes, determined to capture the next crow for you. But he strutted around and pecked around and was as quiet as a church mouse the entire time.

We haven't heard him crow again today. But I have to tell you, those three little crows changed his life. He's been strutting around all day long. And he's been challenging the hens and Bobby Lee more than ever. He is really quite proud of himself. It seems to me the girls are paying a lot more attention to him as well.

As silly as it sounds, Bernie and I are really proud of Duke. The boy is crowing at six weeks old! And he's so dad gum handsome and sweet. He is honestly everything I could have hoped for in a rooster - at least at this young age.

I'll get some pictures of all the chicks posted in the next couple of days. I was going to wait to write about this until I had the pictures ready, but I am so excited, I just had to let y'all know.

By the way, I'm working on adding some canning information and pictures on the Back to Basic Living Website. I hope to have the pages up within the next week. I've water bath canned several jars of Raspberry Jam and Raspberry Syrup - and I took some pictures of the process to share on the website.

I'll write more in the next day or so. I hope to capture Duke crowing on the camcorder so I can share it with you. I'm just certain you'll be as impressed with the boy as I am.

Bee Free,

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Jammin' - and Running Free

Our wild raspberries are really starting to come in. They've got a few more days before the majority ripen up, but seeing a handful of ripe raspberries was enough to make us risk the brambles we had to wade through to pick them. We only ended up with about 1/2 a pound, and I decided to make a jar of Raspberry Jam out of them. Bernie doesn't have much of a sweet tooth, but he can't resist many things made of fruit. He likes to put his jam over a bowl of vanilla ice cream. Yes, I know that sounds weird, but honestly, you should try it. It's wonderful!

So for those of you with berries that always wanted to know how to make jam, I'm going to share the recipe for the most simple jar of jam you will ever make.

1/2 pound Berries
1 cup of Sugar

Pour the sugar over the berries and gently stir the mixture. Let it sit for about 15 minutes or so. Then heat the whole thing on low heat until the sugar melts, stirring the entire time. Once it gets soupy, turn your heat up to high and stir as it boils for about 5 minutes - or until it gets thick. Turn the heat off and pour your jam into a clean, sterile jar.

Now you have berry jam. There are several ways to make jam, but this is probably the easiest. If you have a lot of berries, you may want to use a recipe that adds pectin to reduce the amount of time you spend over the stove. But for a small amount, it will only take you 5 minutes or so. 1/2 pound of berries makes less than 1 pint of jam, so I didn't mess around with canning it since that small amount won't last long around here. Several of you wrote that you would like to see a webpage on the Back to Basic Living website on the basics of canning, and I will start working on that in the next week or two, as more berries come in. I typically water bath can all of my fruit and sometimes tomatoes, and pressure can anything else.

Here's a picture of the jam over a bowl of ice cream:


I have to tell you, I almost didn't post that picture. It reminds me of bird poop over ice cream. I think it's all the seeds. If you are really turned off by seeds in your jam, you can smoosh the berries through a sieve first. But I'm going to warn you - it's going to take a lot more berries that way. There is very little fruit around each of those little seeds. But it's your choice. Personally, I can get past the bird poop looking jam.....

The chicks are doing great. They were five weeks old yesterday. Friday afternoon Bernie and I let them out in the chicken yard for the evening. They loved it. They ran around eating everything they could get their little beaks on. They flew and ran and played and challenged each other. It was really a hoot watching them. It took me a while to get them all inside as darkness was settling, but it was worth it.

This weekend I let them out in the chicken yard at 6:30 each morning. They are really loving being outside. We check on them every few minutes, and they are doing fine. They pretty much ignore me when I go into the chicken yard to sit with them, but I just chalk it up to the excitement of being outside. To compensate, I don't let them out in the mornings until they eat out of my hands, jump on me, and act like they still love me. Then I open their little chicken door and they go outside and act like I have cooties.

They are really getting big and starting to look like miniature chickens. Bernie says my chickens are way prettier than any five week old chickens he's ever seen. I absolutely agree with him. Duke is starting to cluck already. I love the little peep-peep noises they make, but the clucking is pretty exciting. Here's a picture of Duke - not a great one because I chopped off his beak in the picture, but it really shows off his comb and his developing waddles, and his size compared to the Silver Leghorn he's standing next to:


Dad gum, that's a good looking boy! Here's a picture of the only other rooster I think (*hope*) we have. His name is Bobby Lee. He's a Phoenix and, although not as developed as Duke, quite handsome in his own right:


Look at that boy strutting around. I sure am proud to have such good looking boys. I really hope they get along and stay sweet. I just can't bare to think of one of them ending up on the table. I've tried to be delicate and casually mention that to both of them on a couple of occasions. Let's hope they are listening.

Not only are the boys good looking, but the girls are so pretty now. They've filled out and feathered out and just fill me with pride. I put several new pictures of the chicks up on the Back to Basic Living website.

Oh - and I finally learned to tell the Phoenix's from the Silver Leghorn's! The Phoenix's have slate colored legs, and the Silver Leghorn's have yellow legs. It took an awful lot of googling to figure that out! I sure am relieved though. I don't know why, but it is, for some reason, important to me.

The chicks are great. Bernie and I are great. Elvis and Priscilla are tolerating all the greatness. Life is good on the homestead.

Bee Free,

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Those Steaks Would Tempt a Bear

We've been busy on the homestead since I last wrote, and I honestly can't tell you what we've been doing. The past week has been a blur of activity. We spent the weekend moving stuff into and organizing our sheds. My garden shed now contains everything pertaining to gardening and caring for chickens, and Bernie's workshop barn shed now contains everything pertaining to... well.... workshop stuff. So now, when I need a hammer, rather than searching under the kitchen sink, the garage, the sea container, or any number of other places, I can go right into Bernie's barn shed and know I'll find a hammer. The truth is, when I need a hammer I typically grab a shoe. But it brings Bernie joy to envision me needing a hammer and going to his barn shed and finding it there - and then actually using the hammer instead of a shoe. So let's just pretend that's exactly what I'll do.

Yesterday was Bernie's birthday. Yay! Happy Birthday, Bernie! We decided to grill a couple of nice steaks to celebrate, and afterwards, being the wonderful wife that I am, I did the dishes all by myself while he relaxed and informed me how I wasn't doing them right.

A side note to the wives out there - Ladies, never relinquish your kitchen to your husband under the delusion that life will be grand with him cooking and doing dishes for you. Not if you ever plan to step foot into your kitchen again. He will take over and you will never be able to live up to his expectations in the kitchen again.

After we ate and relaxed a bit, I went in to brush my teeth around 8PM. In the middle of it, Bernie walked into the bathroom and said "There's a bear at the compost pile." I quickly wiped my face and ran into the living room to look out the window. Sure enough, there was a bear at the compost pile. He was sitting on his rear with his legs in front of him, just staring at the compost. I ran in to get my camera, and when I got back he was standing up sniffing at the compost:


He only stayed there a few seconds, and then started to walk off. Then he stopped and stared at us in the window:


And then he made a beeline for the grill we had left outside to cool off:


We've only left the grill outside overnight one time - and we awoke to the sound of bears knocking it over and getting into it in the middle of the night. We don't leave it outside overnight any more. So when we saw the bear heading towards the grill last night, Bernie decided enough was enough. He walked outside and clapped his hands and yelled something like "Hey Bear! Hey Bear!" and the bear quickly high tailed it right on out of the yard:


Bernie decided the grill was cool enough and promptly locked it inside the shed.

The chicks turned four weeks old last Saturday. I took pictures this afternoon so I can show you how big they are getting. Their feathers are coming in beautifully. Between four and six weeks, I understand that I should be able to identify the roosters. Their combs should be larger and pinker than the hens, among several other things. I put several pictures up on the Back to Basic Living website, and a few of them show the differences between hens and what I believe are my roosters. Even if I'm wrong, the pictures are darn cute, so check them out anyway.

Here's a picture of either a Phoenix or a Silver Leghorn. Although I can see difference in the two now, I still can not tell which is which. They are both good looking birds though!


This here is a picture of a Phoenix/Leghorn on the left, and a Penciled Hamburg on the right:


The Hamburgs are beautiful chicks and the picture does not do their feather colors any justice. While they remain the most skittish, they really are pretty and friendly, if I don't make any sudden movements.

And here's Duke the Big Roo:


That boy is huge. Just get a load of the size of those feet! He's the only one that I make certain I pick up each time I enter the coop. He is obviously a very large rooster and I am determined to establish that I have the upper hand with him. He protested a bit at first, but he's coming around and actually comes running to me when I sit down, even knowing that he will get picked up. You may also notice that his comb is quite large and quite pink. I'm sure I don't have to mention how incredibly good looking that boy is.

Lucy, Amelia, Echo, and the other Black Spanish are doing just fine. I tried to get pictures of them, but they spend most of their time on my shoulders or head, so that complicated matters a bit. I think I did manage to get one or two pictures of them and put them up on the website. I don't want to bog your computer down with many more pictures on this blog entry. Lucy is no longer the runt. She has really grown and is feathering out very nicely. She's still full of spunk and doesn't take anything off anyone. She's always been one tough little bird. I'm sure that's exactly what helped her survive. I often question how many of the other chicks will survive if they tick her off and face her wrath. She has quite a little temper.

We have lots of activity here on the homestead. Vegetables are coming in, chickens are growing, bears are visiting, and stuff is getting accomplished. There's never a dull moment around here. I kind of like it that way.

Bee Free,

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hot Time in Chicken Town

With the record breaking temperatures we've had around here lately, I've really been worried about the chicks getting hot in the coop. I tried putting a fan in one of the windows, but all that seemed to do was pull in piping hot air from outside and swirl it around a little. The coop temperature stayed near 100 degrees during the day. I finally decided to take a clean kitty litter box, fill it with pine chips, and pour cold water over it to moisten the chips and stick the whole thing on the floor of the coop to see if the chicks showed any interest. They loved it! They would wiggle their bodies into the chips and lay there with little smiles on their faces. Here's a picture of Lucy after her Wet Chip Spa treatment:


She was so pleased with herself that I didn't have the heart to tell her she looked like Phylis Diller. Look at Amelia checking out Lucy's wet and funky tail feathers. I'm pretty sure I heard her laughing. If you decide to try the wet chip box for your chickens, be sure to change it out every day. You don't even want to know what water, chips, and chicken poo smells like after about 24 hours......

We finally got the chicken yard completely finished. It now has a fence around it and a shrimp net over top of it. We also added chicken wire to the bottom of the coop so that they can't get under there and I don't have to spend countless hours retrieving ornery chickens from underneath of it.


Sunday afternoon we decided to open the chicken door and see if anyone wanted to come out into the new chicken yard. Several were intrigued with the idea, but for a good long while, we had no takers. This was about the extent of their curiosity:


After about an hour, we were just getting ready to close up and call it quits, when Big Roo Duke jumped down into the yard and starting eating ants like there was no tomorrow:


Encouraged that Duke was feeling adventurous, I was certain the others would soon be joining him and we'd have 23 chicks happily pecking and strutting about the chicken yard. I was certain, being flock animals, they would all stay together and not attempt to escape through the fence wire. At least this is what I had hoped and what I wanted the chickens to do. But chickens don't do what I want them to do. They have their own agenda, and it has precious little to do with mine. I live with cats, so you would think I'd be used to having my wishes ignored and expect it. But I didn't. And this is the part where everything went wrong.

In my excitement of seeing Duke happily eating ants in the yard, I decided to go inside and get a couple of adult beverages for Bernie and me to enjoy while watching our little balls of fluff. But when I left the chicken yard, Duke completely freaked out. He began running around emitting a high volume distress call. I didn't know this until Bernie told me upon my return - and I could hear Duke's screams and see him hiding underneath the steps. I squatted down to talk to Duke in a soothing voice and he bolted toward the fence and began throwing his body at the two inch spaces between the wires on the fence. Honestly, Duke is huge and there was no way I would have ever imagined he could possibly squish his fat body between those wires. But just as I reached for him, he sucked in his gut and jammed himself through the wires and popped out on the other side and headed for the woods. Just that fast.

Lordy. I don't think you need all the details to imagine how panicked I was - or how panicked Duke was. Bernie remained calm through the entire ordeal. He closed up the coop to keep the others inside as I tore around the woods trying to catch Duke. Duke may be fat, but he's short, and that worked in his favor while maneuvering through brambles and fallen trees and limbs. While I am short, it did not have the same effect for me. By the time I caught Duke my arms and legs were scratched and bleeding and I had as much of the Phylis Diller hair thing going on as little Lucy did, due to the branches that grabbed it as I plowed through the woods.

We returned Duke to the coop and I promptly informed everyone that one bad apple spoils the whole bunch and there would be no more outings for quite some time. As I left the coop, I saw several of the girls give Duke the High Five.

I ended up putting chicken wire over the coop door opening so I can open the door during the day to allow more air in the coop without allowing any chicks to go out in the yard. They are only three weeks old, so going outside unsupervised is not going to happen. Actually, thanks to Duke's shenanigans, going outside at all is not going to happen for a little while longer.

By the way, I put up several pictures on the Back to Basic Living website. At three weeks old, the chicks have entered their "teenage" years and, although still adorable, they are looking quite gangly. They are flying around the coop with great confidence, and can get up to roosts and windows with ease. They seem to enjoy using me as a launch pad and make quite a game of flying up to my shoulders or head and then dive bombing unsuspecting chicks on the ground.

We've been busy with other things on the homestead as well. The tomatoes are starting to form and other vegetable plants are blooming. Raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries are in here in abundance this year. Even Peachy is loaded down with a fair amount of fruit. Hopefully Mother Nature won't have any surprises for us and we'll be canning a lot in a few months. If you would be interested in learning about canning, drop me a note. If there is enough interest, I will put a page on the Back to Basic Living website dedicated to the basics of canning.

I know I've spent a lot of time talking chickens with you for the past few weeks. The addition of the chickens, along with the vegetable gardens and other activities, brings us closer to our homesteading goals of achieving more self reliance. Although it is still a few months away, we will soon be eating fresh eggs and the chickens will be free-ranging for a large portion of their meals.

So, here we are - homesteading with our chickens. And I'm sure you could homestead without chickens. I'm just not sure why you would want to.

Bee Free,

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Cooped Up

The chicks have been in their coop for 5 full days, and they seem to have handled it quite well - in spite of the many thunderstorms and power outages we've had. I, on the other hand, have been a nervous wreck. I suppose I've gotten so used to waking up and checking on them through the night that I am now having difficulty sleeping without waking up and worrying about them. I went out at all hours of the night to check on them the first 4 nights, only to find them perfectly safe and sound - and maybe even a little annoyed that I awoke them. Last night I was determined to sleep through the night and NOT check on them - only to wake at 2AM and toss and turn for over an hour. *sigh* I am certain this should be harder on them than it is on me....

Honestly, I can see those chicks grow every day. They are getting so big. They are now entering their "teens" and looking a little gangly. Down is being replaced by feathers - and it's happening quite sporadically on their bodies. But they are still just as cute as little buttons, and I still love them to pieces.

The White Faced Black Spanish chicks remain the most friendly, in spite of everything I've read about them. They routinely meet me at the coop door and are always the first to eat out my hand when I sit down with them. Lucy was busy staring at herself in the mirror for this picture, but here are the other three:


Amelia figured out how to get to the roosts within a few hours of being in the coop. There are three tiers to the roosts, and I've seen her on the second tier several times already:


Several others have finally figured out the roosts, too - but they can only sit on it as long as Amelia allows. Once she figures out they are up there, she flies up and chases everyone else off. These two snuck up when she wasn't looking:


This is the one confirmed rooster so far. I've named him Duke. He's probably twice the size of all the others and incredibly calm and very friendly - and all the girls seem to like him. He's hot in this picture and spreading out his wings to cool a little:


That's a good lookin' boy right there!

I put a mirror in the brooder with them when I first got them, and they really seemed to like it, so I moved it out to coop for them to play with. I've got to be honest - I think Lucy has a problem. She is completely obsessed with her reflection in the mirror. It's down right embarrassing! I find her sleeping with her little face pressed against her reflection. I am not kidding. In this picture she is plum wore out from pecking at her reflection and fighting off the other chicks that tried to get to the mirror. She's the one in the front:


I should also mention that Lucy is developing quite nicely and has really grown a great deal. She's still very tiny, but she doesn't take any crap off anyone. The chicks are busy establishing dominance amongst themselves, and chest bumping is becoming quite frequent. Usually when chicks bump chests, they make eye contact until one of them backs down and walks away. Unless the whole chest bumping thing involves Lucy. When chicks bump Lucy's chest, she pecks the crap out of them and they take off running. She may be tiny, but she will jack them up in two seconds flat.

I'm including this last picture for those of you that have never had chicks and may plan to get them. When chicks get sleepy, they go to sleep. Not after they find a comfortable place to crash, and not when they curl up and settle down - I mean they go to sleep RIGHT NOW. I am used to it now, but when they were just a day or two old it would absolutely panic me. I was convinced they were dying and rush them to the CICU. I'm pretty sure every chick I have ended up in CICU at one time or another for looking sleepy. If you look at this picture I took this afternoon, you may understand why:


Notice how they sprawl out and lay all....well....dead looking?? That's how baby chicks sleep when they are plum tuckered. I wish someone had warned me about that. So do my chicks.

As you can see, the chicks are doing just fine. They are growing and changing and getting more sweet and tame each day. They are almost three weeks old, and I really can not imagine my life without them. Although a good night's sleep is something I dream about.

Bee Free,

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Empty Nest

Before the chicks even got here, I had decided that I would remove them from the brooder and put them inside their coop when they were two weeks old. At two weeks, chicks can regulate their own body temperature and wouldn't require the constant attention I knew I would have to lavish on them the first 14 days. After I got the chicks, I began to question whether or not I would be willing to tolerate the 50 foot distance between the coop and me. I've quickly grown extremely attached to these little peepers and find comfort in looking in on them at all hours of the day and night.

Well, the past few days sealed the deal. It had gotten to the point that I could not even open the lid on the brooder to play with them without one of them attempting to fly out - namely our First Woman in Flight around here, Amelia. I also noticed they were all trying to fly inside their tiny brooder and I came to realize they would be much happier with the additional space the coop would provide. So, with no small amount of sadness, we moved our little babies to the big coop today.

Before I post the pictures of the chicks, I should probably show you the coop. We finished up painting the trim and will get the chicken yard fenced in within the next week or so. The chicks won't be going outside until the fence is completed and covered with a shrimp net my uncle gave me to keep out chicken hawks and other predators from above:


As difficult as the thought of moving the chicks to the coop was, it was even more difficult to catch all of them and put them in the box for transport. Their discovery of flight did not help any at all. But I got 23 terrified chicks into a box and carried them out to the coop. I sat on the floor and removed each from the box and each one ran over to the furthest corner from me and huddled in absolute terror. Get a load of Amelia in this picture (upper left), Prairie Doggin' her head above all the others and staring at me:


That picture cracks me up. The White Faced Black Spanish are the most alert of the group. At any rate, they were acting so scared that I was just about to chalk the whole thing up to a terrible mistake, load them all back up in the box, and take them back in the house to the brooder when little Lucy broke away from the rest and headed right over to me. For the tiniest, she sure is the bravest. When the others saw her courage, they started moving towards me too. They began pecking at the ground and scratching and looking a lot more relaxed. Lucy found a little clump of grass mixed in with the pine chips:


Bernie and I left them to explore for a while. I went back out about 30 minutes later, and they were running around chasing each other, flapping their little wings and attempting flight, scratching like crazy, and just seemed to be having the time of their life. I've been out several times this afternoon to sit with them a while, and they are really enjoying that coop. Lucy found a little, tiny spider and nailed it on the second peck! They all seem much more happy with this arrangement than I am. I will really miss having them right under my nose 24 hours a day.

I put additional pictures up on the Chicken Coop Deville page of the website.

So we have an empty nest here, but the chicks seem to really love their new digs. The coop is built solid and is certainly safe from any predators. Their heat lamp is on and should keep them at the 80 degrees they're accustomed to.

I'm a little sad, but it really makes me happy watching them run and fly and play. I hope they'll miss me, just a little. I'd hate to think I'd raised a bunch of ungrateful little peeps.

Bee Free,