First Snow for RI Red Girls

This picture is actually mouse tracks leading to the chicken run door! The first snow our girls experienced started with a scroungy little critter trying to find shelter in last nights storm! It managed to squeeze it’s way through the corner of the run doorway, up the chicken ladder and somehow through the corner of the chicken door into the coop!

Call us surprised when we went into the coop to refill food and water to find a mouse darting around with the chickens chasing it! It was still pretty dark so the chickens were sleepy but trying to catch the little monster! After about 5 minutes of a game of chase I opened the chicken door and let the scared to death vermin out!

Needless to say we are now making sure that at least the coop door is super tightly closed at night.

As the sun came up the girls finally got to experience their very first snow outside. I don’t think they were very impressed. They wouldn’t even touch it! Avoiding anything white! It didn’t take long for them to starting back into the Tajma coop where it’s always toasty and comfortable.

Don’t Touch the Snow!

Winter is not a good time for the girls. It’s usually too cold and/or too wet for them.They are a fair weather flock. Even after enticing them with sliced carrots they still only eat the ones they can reach away from the snow.

I always see pictures and stories about how chickens tolerate cold weather and even in places where temperatures have dropped to -20 degrees! Chickens can be comfortable until it reaches 20 below. The only minor issue that can happen is when their comb or waddles get frostbite. It’s minor and superficial, peeling off in a week or so. So while chickens all over the world are free ranging in a few inches of snow, my chickens refuse to touch it! They would rather crowd each other until they get on each other’s nerves and then start pecking on each other.

Oh, I suppose I could shovel more snow out of the way but the ground below is too frozen and not good on their little feet. Besides, there is so much to do around here that it always falls to the end of the list.

Suck it up girls! Spring will be here before you know it!

What the ladies avoid the slow on their YouTube channel:

From Hail Waste to Chicken Snack

The girls survives a 10 minute storm that included quarter sized hail! They were smart enough to run into the coop before they got smacked with it. It must have really scared them because they hardly laid any eggs that day. It took them a few days to get back to normal.

Unfortunately the crops were not so lucky. As we were pulling out damaged produce we found a number veggies that were dinged up but not in terrible shape. This was our first year growing acorn squash and the girls had never had it so I thought I would share it with them instead of tossing it into the compost pile. It was a big hit!

It started with 2 halves but they went after it so fast I knew I needed to add more. They are not great at sharing. Six  halves seem to be the magic number. Just enough to share without a lot of chaos.

What the girls eating acorn squash on their YouTube Channel:

 

 

 

The Bumblefoot Girls

It’s been almost 3 months since we found a couple of our Easter Eggers with a case of bumblefoot. Poor girls were not running with the rest of the flock and spent a lot of time sitting rather than hanging with the other hens.

We already had a lesson from our vet on how to take care of the foot bacterial infection called Bumblefoot. Soaking the feet in an antiseptic every couple days should take care of it. Unfortunately these two girls were stubborn and not healing very quickly.

We finally put them in cages so we could keep them nice and sanitary through the next phase. Soaking daily, then putting antibiotic cream on, wrapping in bandages and changing daily. Phew! This gets tiring. Why Blue? Because that’s the color of their eggs silly!

BUT we made progress! As of today all the scabs are gone! Some wounds are slightly open so we have to keep them in bandages until they are completely healed.

They are in better spirits. There are beautiful blue eggs almost every day. They’ve gotten used to the regimen and even talk to us while they are taking a soak.  I don’t know what they are saying but the tone seems much happier.

We figure a week for one of the girls who is down to one bandage, and a couple more weeks for the pretty girl with bandages on both feet.

Let’s keep the fingers crossed!

 

Broody Chaos

As the summer is heating up so are the girls hormones! It’s that time of year when chickens decide they want to raise baby chicks, or become what we call Broody. Although we collect eggs at least twice a day, broody girls will sit in the nesting box and refuse to leave as though they are hatching eggs. They stop laying eggs, drop weight, lose feathers and get really cranky! Its not good for their health and unfortunately causes other hens to want to be broody too!

We’ve broken a couple broody hens over the last couple months but we currently have 4 chickens that are acting insane! I forcefully remove them from the nesting box when I’m cleaning or it’s free range time and they puff up until they look like turkeys, growl at us and race around the outside of the coop, banging on the doors trying to get back in! We’ve separated them into a fenced area right next to the run to keep them isolated, but they have such a bad attitude they started attacking each other!

Time for desperate measures! We bought a number of dog crates and put them inside the barn, put one broody hen in each crate and kept them there except when it was free ranging time. We gave them plenty of high protein snacks to put some weight back on and grow their feathers back. We had to keep them there for 5 days to break them, and the Easter Egger took 2 extra days beyond that! I guess this will come in handy when I need chicks hatched next year!

One of the interesting side effects of removing so many chickens is we ended up with the mother hen separated from the rest of the flock. She was horrific to deal with!  The picture above is her climbing the chicken wire to fly over the 6 foot farm fence, which she managed to do! When I tried to reach for her she puffed  up like a turkey growled and pecked at me! We noticed that the rest of the flock was very calm and not pecking at each other since removing her. After introducing her back she seemed to have been moved down the pecking order and everyone is getting along a lot better. Nice!!

So the flock was fully reintegrated in a week and within 2 more days we have 2 new broody girls to deal with! Time to start all over again!.

Watch as the usually shy Easter Egger show some broody attitude on their YouTube Channel:

See the broody mother hen trying to get out of her isolation pen on their YouTube Channel:

 

 

Spring Cleaning and The Birds!

Let’s see……scrub brush?…check, rags?…check, rubber gloves?…check, air filtering mask?…check, and natural home made cleaner?……CHECK!  I’m ready to spring clean the coop!

We do what they call the deep litter method. You keep a deep 5-6 inches of bedding on the coop floor and turn it routinely which helps the chicken poop to break down and create it’s own compost so it doesn’t smell. It really works! Every 3-6 months you pull out the bedding and clean the nesting boxes, roost, floor, walls and windows. We waited 6 months over the winter for this day and it’s finally here!

I started by getting all my cleaning supplies together. There are great recipes online for natural cleaning solutions. Mine includes diluted white vinegar, lemon oil and cinnamon. It cleans great, smell fantastic and it has no harsh chemicals.

The girls never miss an opportunity to go free ranging so it was easy to get them out of my way. Open the gate, make sure they are all out and then shut all the coop doors.  Open the windows to allow air flow and I’m ready to start!

I had a dump trailer hooked up to the UTV and moved 5 trailer loads of partially composted bedding to the composting area! It didn’t look like much laying in the coop. I swept the linoleum floor and  then pulled out the farm specific shop vacuum to remove all the dust possible. Then came the brush and rags to start wiping down EVERYTHING with that great smelling cleaning solution. What a difference in the the smell!

That’s about the time the girls started to lose patience. I’d been in there for over an hour already and they wanted back in! As I was putting new nesting pads and dried herbs in their nesting boxes they started to peck at the doors and jump at the windows trying to get in! It was like being in the movie THE BIRDS! Crazy chickens frantically throwing themselves at the coop dying to get back inside!

I started working really fast getting the coop back together tossing 5 bales of pine shavings on the floor, barely spreading them out before I opened up the coop door. They came running back in right into the nesting boxes. They really wanted to lay their eggs inside the coop. I’m lucky in that they never laid eggs outside.

In the end we have a super clean coop and happy hens who, by the way, are now laying more eggs than ever!

See the before and after videos on the What the Flock YouTube channel:

Breaking a Broody Hen

After a couple weeks of fewer than 20 eggs a day, I started to wonder what was wrong. The girls seemed very happy with the spring weather and they spent a lot of time in the coop. You can hear egg songs galore! Then it dawned on me. Three of my hens were sitting in the same nesting boxes day after day. They even stopped running outside in the morning for treats! Some of my girls are Broody!!

Being broody is when a hens wants to hatch her eggs. She will sit on them and only leave for short periods of time to eat and drink until they hatch. Eggs take 3 weeks to hatch and during that time their bodies act differently. Their hormones change, their bodies warm up and they stop laying. All their energy goes into hatching. Partially from not eating as much, they lose weight and feathers. Some say losing feathers is a hens way of giving the new baby chicks a softer nest. The poor hens sometimes have no feathers left on their belly! In general a broody hen looks like a sloppy slug melted into her nesting box and sometimes a little sickly.

We had a broody hen once last year and we put her in own pen away from the nesting boxes. It distracted her and broke the cycle. After 4 days she got back into the groove of hanging with the flock, gained weight and started laying eggs again!

This time it’s going to be more difficult because we have 3 girls being broody and 1 of them is the same one that was broody last year. The time out pens gets a little hotter and causes stress on a hot day. We are going to have to use multiple pens since we have so many chickens acting up. We’ll give it a try and let you know how it goes.

You can see what a broody hen acts like when you try to take her out of her nesting box by visiting the chickens YouTube channel:

Our First Injured Hen

It finally happened. Our first chicken injury. It was weekly coop cleaning day so I let the girls out to free range to keep them out of the way. When I was done I came outside and saw a group of hens come running around the other side of the run. As they came up to me I noticed blood on the side of the smallest black chicken. I scooped her up and found that it wasn’t her side at all. She had a chunk taken out of her wing with a few feathers missing. What had happened to her?!!!! I wandered the property and couldn’t find the missing feathers. For all I know there might have been a hawk or fox hanging nearby and made an attempt to take her away!

I quickly jumped into action by washing the injury out and spraying with a topical antibiotic. I pulled out a puppy pen I bought for just such an occasion and made her a nice space away from the rest of the birds to heal properly. She’s being fed luxury food like vegetables and high in protein snacks such as meal worms and tuna. She even has her own bottle of chicken Gatorade loaded with electrolytes, vitamins and also probiotics. She’s eating and drinking like a queen! I tried to give her a section in the coop to be closer to her hen friends, but she gets more stressed out watching the other girls. So instead she’s staying in the luxury spa, puppy pen in the green house. Actually seems to enjoy it! As a matter of fact, she even laid 2 eggs yesterday!

I tried free ranging her with the girls in the evenings but chickens have a survival instinct to get rid of weak flock mates and if they see blood they will potentially attack her! It’s very upsetting to think about these cute girls doing something so horrific, but you can’t change mother nature. Unfortunately the other hens were too interested in her injury so she has to free range separately from everyone else. I let her out when I’m poking around the yard so she doesn’t feel left out.

I tried to bandage her which will keep the girls from pecking at her, but I’m a terrible nurse and she’s a terrible patient, pulling off the bandage when I’m not watching her. Now I’m out of bandage and decided leaving the wound open at this point may heal it fast, as long as she doesn’t mess with it.

Wish her luck as this will take a long time to heal and she’s going to get tired of being cleaned, sprayed and not allowed to mingle with her friends.

Here is when I found her tearing off her bandage.

New Roosting Bars

Evening time has been a little of a challenge in the coop in the winter. The hens all wanted the highest spot in the middle of the flock to stay the warmest. The roosts went higher the closer to the back wall they were and only the highest ranking hens got the prime spots. Top that off with the 2X2 inch wooden sticks that were also at a slight angle and there was a lot of adjusting, squabbling and pecking trying to get ready for bed!

We tore out those tiny annoying roosting bars and put in these long 2X4 boards! Now instead of gripping a small uncomfortable stick they have a nice fat board to put their feet flat down. They can sit down on their toes to keep them toasty warm. Chickens are really not considering flying, perching birds anyway.

Night came and there was far less squawking and flapping, but those girls were still trying to get to the higher bar. My poor hubby had to tear it apart and change it yet again! The final configuration is 2 bars at the same height. There are almost no more arguments now! The only noise I sometimes hear is when one of the hens jumps up into middle of the pack hoping to get a good spot.

One funny side effect of the roosting bar change is they are farther apart from each other now. They were so used to being on top of each other and cuddling together that the first night using the new roosts they were falling over trying to tuck their heads under the bird on the roost next to them! It took them awhile to figure out they weren’t going be sitting as close together!

The last change was the poop decks. Now that we changed the configuration we couldn’t use the custom trays. The new poop deck is just a table underneath. This new design is easy to clean and the girls seem to like hanging out underneath it. It gives them another place to hide.

Take a good look at the roost on the What the Flock YouTube channel:

 

 

Preventing Frostbite

Just before the arctic blast hit, I did a lot of online research on frostbite and most agreed it’s the humidity that increases the chances of frostbite, not the cold temperature. We got outdoor remote sensor thermometers with humidistat so I could see what the temperature and humidity was both outside and inside the coop.

Everyone tries to assure you that chickens do fine in cold weather because they have down coats, but their combs and feet aren’t covered with feathers. Unfortunately some of my girls got a little frostbite on the very tips of their combs when the coop dropped to 7 degrees and the humidity rose to 94%. It turned a little black in the edge. The good news is they really don’t have a lot of feeling in the combs and whatever turns black will just fall off. Thank god it wasn’t their toes! They were still toasty warm.

After that episode I decided to try putting a thin layer of petroleum jelly on their combs like  you put on your lips to keep them from getting chapped. A number of people recommended it online and it does seem to help. I have to sneak into the coop at night when they have calmed down enough that they don’t put up too much of a fight.  It takes a little time when you are working with 27 chickens!

Watch us put petroleum jelly on the girls combs on their YouTube Channel: