Photo Diary 3 – Day 6 and a Birthday Celebration

I moved the chicks to a bigger brooder box today. They were climbing up their stick roost and trying to fly out of their red plastic recycle bin brooder and it was only a matter of days untill they did.

Teatime in the coop w text collage jpeg

All their familiar things are tucked in their new brooder; their “jungle gym” sticks, their clumps of dirt and grass. Their food and water. I added a small dog size plastic Frisbee filled with grit and they took right to it. They are also now eating fermented chicken feed in a jar lid and loving that.

Sisterly love green blue cup USE

Snuggling sisters.

The chicklet’s now have tail feathers showing. These are rapidly developing birds that are jumping up and flying down already!

We had a third photo shoot today, though a bit of a rushed one I admit. We are celebrating three birthdays today, my son Darron, my granddaughter Brenna and my husband Gene so I’ve been up since 6 a.m. getting our food ready.

Knomes perched cut elightly blury

Is it time for the tea party yet?

I needed to marinate the chicken, prep the green beans, toss the salad, make the potato casserole and the corn bread. The table is set and all that is left to do is make the fresh fruit salsa that will top the chicken.

Gene will grill the chicken while I bake the rest of the items. The weather report has promised a nice warm day and it is already sunny, so this should be a read letter day for sure.

I mean really you want me to do what

Dutch treat!

I’m very excited that my granddaughter will be able to hold the chicks, collect eggs, help grandpa with a few farm chores and generally enjoy the country.

Brennas hands with eggs 2015

Brenna loves to collect eggs.

Brenna full length with her first egg

My darling girl is happy with her first egg. It was still warm when she found it.

Today fast paced photo shoot included more teacups photographs for a special creative project I have had. More about that in a future post.

Give me your profile please

I hope you don’t expect me to do that?

I also put a chick in an egg cup and put an egg in the child’s eggs cup and it turned out, if I may say so, quite adorable.

Tw HORIZ teacups maybe

No way am I ever gonna produce that!

I am happy with the progress these photographs although I still have to photo edit and crop most of them in order to be 100% satisfied.

I have written an article and hope to use these photographs to illustrate it. More about that as the process develops.

Ivy cup cute

I’ll have some spiced cider please.

Small House Homesteader, photographer and chicken keeper, Donna

Goldie the Broody Hen

Our 9-month-old hen Goldie began to go broody this past week.

At first I thought she was just having trouble laying her egg and I was concerned with her clucking all the time and sitting on the nest for hours. I thought she might be egg bound. Then Gene figured out that she was acting broody and we realized what was really going on – our first broody hen!

This is making things quite difficult for us right now because of the demands of having new chicks, the porch’s membrane roof research and quoting project, spring garden demands (two flats of native lupines, 48 comfrey slips and 6 custom grated fruit trees are coming soon and we must have the ground ready) as well as a big joint birthday dinner at the homestead this Sunday (more about that later on this week.)

When it rains…it pours…

Gene named this hen Goldie from the iridescent golden color in her hackles, the ruff around her neck that is prized by fishermen who tie their own flies. Of the five Cochin/Phoenix mixed chicks we rescued last fall, Goldie is the only one that has this unique and rich golden coloration. The golden hue against the subtle and contrasting black and teal and green shimmers is simply beautiful.

Sitting pretty

 Goldie is second in from the right hand side.

Because my hens only started laying eggs about a month ago, it took me a couple of days to recognize this brooding for what it is, a deep hormonal desire to sit on her eggs and hatch them. When a hen goes broody, her pituitary gland releases prolactin, a hormone that stops her from laying. Her body and her hormones are telling her to brood but the catch is we have no rooster and that means no fertile eggs.

Hens who brood like this often do so endlessly without eating or drinking and often they starve themselves to death. So we knew we were going to have to break her of this desire for broodyness or she could be endangering her own life.

To Break a Broody Hen:

  1. Removing her from the nest box repeatedly, often multiple times a day which of course she does not like and she screeches loudly and goes right back on the nest at the first available opportunity.
  2. Finally closing off the chicken door which stops her access to the box (but also to the other hens as well, which obviously not a long-term solution.
  3. Separating her from the nest box in a more assertive way.

Story’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow also has a nice section on “Discouraging Broodiness.” I can recommend this too.

By Tuesday I decided to set up the dog kennel in the corner of the enclosed run for her. I put in leaves, food and water as well as a low wooden perch the same size as the one she is used to. This is a system that was originally set up for momma Clover when she began to peck her chicks after she “weaned” them and they would not leave her alone.

Crate on dest bath sandbox USE

The dog kennel in the sandbox dusting pen in the North coop corner.

I give Goldie several, supervised, outdoor free-ranging periods throughout the day so she can exercise, take in the sunshine and of course find and eat worms. During these times the chicken door is latched shut so she cannot get back to the nest.

I know this sounds cruel. but I must remember that a hen who wants to brood but has no fertilized eggs can actually die from starvation and thirst if she will not leave the nest.

And when one hen is hogging the “favorite” nesting box that every other hen wants to use – big trouble resides in the henhouse. This requires constant monitoring by me as well.

Goldie in pen

Poor Goldie is very unhappy in her temporary, protective kennel home.

Her latest “stunt” is to fly up to the top of the nesting box and try to get in through the ventilation window which is blocked with hardware cloth. She also flies up to the rafters and tries to get in through the roof which of course is impossible with the corrugated plastic roofing panels covering it. This look like a serious injury in the making.

Goldie closer USE

I am sorry Goldie girl, I feel really bad to have to put you through this agony but I have to protect your health above all….

I’ve read that a week is standard to break a broody hen from wanting to brood 24/7, sometimes two weeks, but we shall see just how stubborn Goldie is. She doesn’t yet realize just how stubborn this German chicken momma can be!

Small House homesteader and chicken momma, Donna


New Chicken Theme Header

I like to change the photographs at the top of my blog to reflect the current season and what is happening here on the homestead. While customizing a blog is beyond my limited abilities (with the exception if setting my basic blog up in WordPress) I CAN make a custom header in PicMonkey.

Eggs in blue bowl USE

Beautiful brown Cochin eggs are what I find in my nest box every morning.

I love that free blog program to edit my photographs and create photo collages and if I can teach myself how to use it, anyone can.

I knew I wanted to make a new header image that reflects our chicken keeping practice here on the homestead but I lacked a picture of our girls beautiful and petite brown eggs. They only started laying eggs two weeks ago and I had to wait until I had a couple of dozen eggs, enough to make a respectable setting in some kind of a container.

I finally got a chance to work on my photo still life this weekend. I started out using old linens under a fancy Phoenix Bird bowl but did not like the way that translated, just too busy. After several linen changes I tried a piece of yard goods I bought at a thrift ship for a few bucks, thinking it would look really pretty a seat cushion on a painted chair.  Bingo! This one looked wonderful and played up the blue of the old antique crockery bowl and the creamy brown of the brown eggs.

Now that I had a jpg that I liked I needed to put them with two more photographs that also helped to tell the story of our Cochin chickens.

This is what I ended up with..

Chickens 3 panel no text jpeg

Our coop, our eggs and our chickens-without text!

Chicken Keeping Collage 3 panel w text jpeg

With text…

Whether you keep chickens for eggs, meat or as pets these birds are a blessing in my life and I for one am thankful for what they offer me. They are complex social creatures and we are privileged to give them a good home. Their unique personalities and amusing antics make me laugh and help to give me a grounded perspective.

Small House Homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

Fencing in the Raspberry Patch

Gene and polehole digger

Posthole digging!

We started creating another free ranging pasture for the chickens this week. This new piece for our black raspberry patch. This will give the girls another large place to scratch and peck for bugs. In certain years we have a lot of Japanese Beatles and the chickens can help to keep them under control. And I am willing to share some low growing fruit in the process.

Digging hole overview

Tamping the sand down to fill the hole.

Cane berries like these carry many upright branches (as well as berries and thorns) and is a wonderful shelter plant for poultry.

canes and green stake

Early in the season canes before the leaves begin to swell.

Our patch has always been prolific and I typically pick and freeze bag after bag of these plump deep black berries and many years we have so many that I am giving them away to friends as well.

Our black raspberries are the thorny kind which will help keep the girls safe as they free range under them. I read that the hawks and other predators do not like to risk going into thorny plants.

I also see this pasture as a place for the big girls to go to when I am acclimatize the new chicks to the out-of-doors. I figure that once the chicks have grown enough they will enjoy coming out of the brooder for “day trips” to the garden for a few hours of sunshine, fresh air and exposure to the out-of-doors.

Fencing step one looking north

 Overview of the beginning of the fencing project. Day 01.

One this patch is completely fenced in we will essentially have three “pastures”; A) the open pasture directly outside of their coop, B) the seasonal fenced in vegetable garden area where they can feed under supervision and soon C) to be fenced in the raspberry patch.

I paced off the fence using my size 9 1/2 size feet and the pasture is approximately 85 feet long by 24 ft. wide. This should provide the chickens with a lot of bugs, dirt as well as entertainment this summer.

Gene measuring

Gene’s is using this as a plumb line.

This pasture should be a very fruitful one because we have always blown small amounts of oak leaves into it in the fall to keep the weeds down and to oh so gradually improve the soil found there. I am guessing that those layers of leaves should in turn be layered with bugs, worms and beetles. And, scratching under leaves and of course finding and eating bugs, seems to be my chickens favorite activity right now.

Canes in leaves

Oak leaf mulch is the base for our Black raspberry bed.

Last fall we bought the pressure-treated posts rated for ground contact embedded directly into the ground and posts for the gates, a number of green metal “T” stakes when Menard’s had an 11% off sale. We also bought two large rolls of chicken wire at the same time.

With Gene’s 10% employee discount and this second sale this means we get 21% off of retail.  This week we hope to measure up the wood that we need for the small open run cover son to be adjoining the coop so that we can buy those materials before Gene retires from Menard’s on April 28. Every little bit helps!!

And right now it is still a month or two before the ground has warmed up enough so that the REAL gardening season can begin so it’s a great time to get a fencing project built. And off we go!

Even though it’s early yet in a Zone 5b garden, things are starting to gear up to a hustling and a bustling homestead!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Another Red Letter Day on the Homestead

We had another red-letter day on the Small House Homestead yesterday.

After 8 months of hard work, building a coop and a covered chicken run and healthy organic feed, we got out first egg yesterday! Horray!

First Egg 3-16-15

This tiny Phoenix Egg in Gene’s hands is our first homegrown one.

You may recall that we rescued a momma hen and her five babies last September. One baby chick, JoJo, was seriously injured when her leg and foot were paralyzed and, unfortunately, she did not make it. Rest in peace JoJo.

Freckles close

Freckles the Phoenix with silver in his ruff and iridescent green feathers.

I don’t know for sure who laid it but it was one of our four girls, one who is a white Cochin and three black ones that seem to be more Phoenix than Cochin though I suspect they are a Cochin/Phoenix mix. And to confuse things even more, their momma was a white Cochin too.

Sitting pretty

The girls pose in their covered run.

No matter the origin this tiny egg is brown and as sweet as can be. This will likely end up in an egg, kale, mushroom and cheese omelette. Yum!

Three heads up house in rear USE today

Sunbathing on the bales of straw on a 60 degree early spring day.

When you start out with tiny baby chicks like this, you are laying the ground work for eggs in 7 to 12 months (depending on the breed). It takes a lot of   nurturing, feeding and generally caring for these chicks turned chickens for a long time before you are actually rewarded with an egg.

Funny chickie babies 4 FBcollage jpeg

Portraits of the girls late last fall.

Sometime its hard to be patient and to remember that through all this hard work of building a chicken coop and outdoor chicken run and time and energy to feed organic, will pay off in the end.  In the process we must overcome lack of confidence, injuries and sometimes mites or fleas, bumblefoot disease and more.

One thing I have discovered is that if one spends enough time with their chickens they will tell us where they need to go and how to get there.

Chicken keeping is not a process of instant gratification but instead one of setting a goal and then slowly working hard over the long run towards the finish line.

Kind of like the process of homesteading itself!

Small House Homestead, chicken keeper, Donna

Moving the Chickens Home

Last night we picked up our newly adopted chickens. The family who previously had them now has close to 40 chickens, too many for their coop and available time. So we brought home a momma hen and her five babies.

eating good-five babies show

Our new momma hen and the five chicklets!

The story goes that this determined momma hen disappeared into the woods, laid her eggs, brooded them and a few days after they hatched she proudly walked back out of the woods with her little ones to show them off. Almost like a children’s story book!

The breed is Phoenix an ancient Japanese breed of chicken that traces its heritage back over a thousand years. This is an ornamental breed usually used for show, I am told.

Momma watching me USE

This good little momma hen is on guard!

This late in the season I could have chosen all adult hens for their eggs, but I do like the idea of a little family and feel that choosing “chicklets” will give them more time and opportunity to bond with me.  I also think that my 5-year-old grand daughter will fall in love with the idea of a momma and her babies.

Watching out good

Watching out over her flock.

I’d been researching in preparation for the big move and found myself a bit worried about stressing them out.  So I took some extra precautions, during the move and for the few days after the move.

It is October and about 50 degrees at night so I did not have to worry about them over heating during the ride home. We moved them in a soft-sided cardboard box and moved them late in the early evening. This late in the day timing was recommended to me by a chicken loving friend to let them acclimate slowly to their new surroundings. She also suggested waiting for a few days before trying to be-friend or socialize them.

I admit I m a bit nervous to have these late in the season babies to care for.

In their old home the hen was used to eating just cracked corn and an hour or two of free ranging.  I want to convert them to Organic feed instead so had that feed ready. I also knew from working with dogs to go oh so slowly with feed changes, so I bought some of the same cracked corn they were used to from the farmer we got the chickens from. I began to add the new feed to their mix very slowly. I experimented with about 1/3 of a cup of the new feed each day.  I’ll increased the amount of the new feed a bit more unto the change-over is complete.

I’ve been waiting so long to have them that I was very tempted to start giving them the apples, pears and acorns I had gleaned, but held off to prevent any issues with digestion or diarrhea. So I will introduce this new food very slowly too. Their pen is filled with grass so I knew that the greens would help to see them through the first few days.

I am being very careful with our Labrador Sassy (a trained bird dog) and not letting her near the pen until the chickens get settled. Then I will still move very carefully because she has to be re-trained to not go after momma’s new chickens. I’ve steeled myself to losing one or two of them and that is why I took six of them home instead of the three egg layers that I really want.

More Tips on moving chickens

  • Change and travel are stressful for chickens and they quickly succumb to overheating, so try to move them at night and keep their journey as short as possible.
  • Transport them in a chicken crate, pet carrier or strong cardboard boxes. Cardboard generates warmth so it’s not the best choice in summer. Remember to make plenty of large air-holes and use string to securely tie the boxes shut – chickens are stronger than they look!
  • Avoid overcrowding the birds. They should have enough room to stand up and turn round.
  • Spread a layer of bedding in the bottom of the boxes. You must provide the birds with food and water if travelling for more than eight hours – but in warm weather you should offer a drink more frequently than this.
  • Placing the boxes on the back seat rather than in the trunk allows circulation of air and you will be able to keep an eye on the temperature. Never leave chickens in a parked car on a warm day.
  • Apple cider vinegar in the chickens’ drinking water over the next few days will help them to deal with the stress of the move.
  • Bache Rescue remedy in the water also help with stress at time of moving.

Small House Homesteader and Chicken Keeper, Donna