Moving day arrived, new lessons learned

IMG_7615It took us 10 weeks to build our chicken coop duck house combo which was 2 weeks longer than we had expected, but the day had finally arrived when it was complete and they were all too ready to get out of their brooder. The chicks and ducklings had been off heat for about 3 weeks, so there would be no difference in temperature between our garage and their house. In all my research everyone had said when you move them into their new house you need to lock them in for a week so they know where home is, and while that was possible for 8 chicks, it was not going to be possible for 6 ducks who grew significantly faster. So like I had been instructed I moved the chicks into their house and locked them in with food and water, but we put the ducks out into the yard. I learned so much in the following weeks about both the chickens and ducks and now I will share my knowledge.

It was evident the chicks were so much happier with their new space, chirping and playing all about when I would go visit them. I began noticing within a day or so that my nest boxes were getting filled with poop and all the shavings removed. After some googling I learned that chickens don’t hatch with the knowledge of what a nest box is and what its for, they need to learn when they are older. So we quickly cut plywood pieces to screw into place to block off the nest boxes so they would no longer sleep and play in them. Eventually when they were closer to laying age we removed the plywood, refilled the boxes with shavings and straw and placed ceramic eggs in them to show them the purpose of those boxes. After our initial eggs being laid all over the place, they figured it out on their own. I also learned during this time that chickens lay eggs when they are ready, so if they are too young to lay and as curious as they are you may get some egg eating issues, this is a pretty common problem and while many people think its a reason to butcher a chicken I have found 2 simple and effective ways to deter egg eating. First thing I did when I was presented with this problem was hang curtains in front of the next boxes. Not only do curtains give some privacy to the laying hen and reduce her stress but it also discourages egg eating because it sort of hides the eggs. Out of sight out of mind. If you have a really aggressive egg eater which I did for a bit and was not so happy coming out to find only the remains of my eggs daily, you can blow out an egg by breaking a hole in one end, use a long pin to break up the yolk and then use another pin to create a small hole in the top so you can blow the egg out the bottom, then refill the egg with mustard. I placed a few of these mustard eggs in the coop for my egg eater and she hated the taste so much I haven’t had an egg eating situation since. Its all about being creative, most problems have a fix that doesn’t involve Farmer Davis’s axe.

I also had no idea of the flying abilities of these little chicks. One would think since they were so small that they wouldn’t really take flight, but I found out so fast that their small size actually allowed them to get even more height and distance that I would have ever guessed. After a couple days I mistakenly went to the coop door windows, opened them up to allow them some extra fresh spring air and then went back inside. Remember they were only about 10 weeks old at this point and it was about 3 feet from the floor to the window. Hours later I looked out into my backyard, what did I see? It certainly wasn’t a peaceful scene I can tell you that much. All the little chicks had flown the coop and were running all around in the attached run, which had no water or food, and they had no way of getting back up into the coop window which was now 5 feet off the ground from where they were at. They were panicked and didn’t know what to do, there was all different levels of chicken screaming happening, I was alone with my 5 year old and 1 year old and trying to figure out how I would deal with it. So after some quick thinking and setting up the outdoor play pen for the kids to watch I attempted my first chicken wrangle. Big chickens are hard to catch when they don’t want to be, but little teen chicks are next to impossible. I opened up only the small coop door and about an hour later of falling in the sand and chicken poop too many times to count, falling on my face and butt and hitting my head on the coop, I finally managed to get all 8 of them back into their coop. So, never doubt their abilities, chickens are escape artists, curious, full of mischief and always willing to give you a run for your money.

After my experience with the great chicken escape, I decided to wait a few extra days before giving them full access to the run, the last thing I wanted to do at bedtime was to have repeat experience of the chicken wrangling. So after 10 days of being locked in the coop we went ahead and let them into the run. They came to the door of the coop and looked out, wanting to come out but not knowing the safety in doing so. The first out was Liberty our Ameraucana, but she didn’t want to use the ramp, apparently it was a terrifying thing. Instead she flew from the coop to Farmer Davis’s waiting arm, she then decided it was best to get onto my head, so she flew over to sit on my head. I was not so amused when she pooped down my back and refused to get off me, every time I put her down she would just hop right back up onto my back, shoulder, and head. It wasn’t until one by one the girls started coming out into their space that she would get off me and join her sisters. This experience was how I learned that chickens do in fact have a fear of the unknown. Our backyard is fully fenced and you can’t see between the boards so we have learned that because they can’t see whats on the other side they are less likely to attempt going on walk about, especially without their rooster. Overtime we have added many new structures to our yard, and every time the chickens proceed with caution. We have learned that any changes can stress our chickens out and cause and upset in laying eggs, new houses, new wood piles, new chickens, and new play areas for them require a slow introduction. With time their curiosity will always win and eventually everything is fine. But when introducing anything new, my biggest advice is to go slow.

My final thoughts on chickens and keeping them in an enclosed run are things we have learned from trial and error, so take the advice for what it is, just me sharing what I’ve learned. Initially we only had 1 feeder and 1 waterer in our chicken run, but I learned that even if they are raised together and get along fine that due to chicken pecking order they will still assert their dominance over food and water. So after setting up extra feeders and having a 6 nipple waterer the assertion of dominance dramatically decreased. If they always know there is more than one place to get food and water they tend to be less picky toward each other. Chickens will fling their food out of any container they can. We thought it would be clever to put a PVC pipe with a corner litter pan attached at the bottom to self fill, however my chickens thought it would be way more beneficial to stand on the edge of the pan and jump off it to fling the food all over thus causing big mess that they don’t eat. Way too much waste. We have since put in a PVC pipe with an attachment at the base that only gives room for a couple chicken heads to fit in and no flinging action ability. We also have a hanging feeder that at the base only has a 1″ opening so their beaks fit but once again, no flinging ability. If you worry about waste then definitely look for feeders that limit their ability to get feet into them, chickens have a natural instinct to scratch and look for food, but causes a lot of waste. Chickens get bored, so you have to install play space for them, if you don’t they will pick at each other and you will not have the peace you may be seeking out when getting chickens. I personally change up their play area every few months. We have a stump they can jump on, we have an outdoor roost and a chicken swing and they rotate through. Not all chickens enjoy a swing, so when the stump goes in, the swing comes out and I always keep the roost in place.

On to Ducks! Ducks are actually easier in so many ways, ducks always stick together so when we moved them out into the yard they went everywhere together and did everything together. Even when adding new ducks into the mix its easier, with ducks they see each other and its like they have a conversation; “You’re a duck, I’m a duck, now we are friends.” We put a kiddie pool into the yard, a big bowl of food and there you go all done. Domestic ducks can’t fly, they are too heavy for their wingspan, so no worries about flying over the fence. You can herd ducks where you cannot herd chickens. This is the main reason ducks are used when training livestock guardian dogs how to herd. It took them time to learn their routine but with the help of our Australian shepherd Jax (who has absolutely no training at all, he goes on his natural instinct) we were able to herd the 6 ducks into their house without major issue. Within months when the sun went down and we walked out the back door the ducks automatically went into their house. If you are looking for something easier to manage without the time consumption that chickens pose, then the duck would certainly be an option for you.

Stay tuned for my next post on how things went free ranging and introducing our other animals to the birds. I plan to write all about the utopia of animals I’ve created.

Thanks for reading and your continued support!

Nicole

So many Benefits!

People who haven’t spent time around poultry don’t truly understand that its not all about the eggs. There is so much more about keeping poultry of all kinds that is unknown to most people. Of course there is the egg factor, we had well over 3 thousand eggs laid on our property last year alone, I know because I kept track of who laid what egg and when. I’m a nut like that. I would never say that the eggs aren’t the greatest benefit either, they are delicious, nutritious, from happy healthy hens and I know everything that goes into their bodies. There is also the meat part, when you got to the store to buy your chicken and eggs it normally doesn’t tell you where it was raised, but when you are raising your own birds you know exactly where and how it was raised. Whats even better for me is that I know that it had a spoiled and lavish life that was filled with daily fun and love. But lets explore all the other benefits to keeping poultry of all kinds.

All poultry is amazing at bug hunting! Not just bugs, but slugs, snails, worms, and even small rodents. I was a little concerned with the increased amounts of poop in the yard that we would have fly problems, but when the ducks come out of their house every morning they go running across the yard chasing and catching flies. Its pretty funny to watch but they are extremely effective. I’ve had Silkie chickens in my garden now for the last 2 years and they have done a great job eating the baby slugs that crawl up the sides of my beds and hunting the little green caterpillars that we don’t like. Its really nice knowing that I don’t have to worry about slugs eating my pretty flowers before they have a chance to bloom because ducks will actually hunt their nests. When we moved in it was a slug fest around here and I frequently found slug nests all over the yard, but since putting a pair of small ducks in my front yard there hasn’t  been a single one. Talk about all natural pest control!

If you are into gardening like me, then you know there is no greater compost than what you make yourself. You put everything into it so you know what you are getting out of it. When you have poultry you have a plethora of chicken gold aka poop. But when you dump all that into your compost and let it sit for 6-9 months with all the other goodies you throw in, what you are going to pull out will be nothing short of amazing for growing your vegetables and fruits. Last year I pumped the water from our duck pond and used it to water the roots of my vegetables because my compost hadn’t cooked long enough. We had an unbelievable bounty that can only be credited to the poop water. My tomatoes were well over 12 feet tall and I harvested over 100 zucchini from just 4 plants. So yeah, it may not be a pretty job to go out there and clean it all up, but talk about free goodness for your garden.

We have also been able to teach our children some very valuable lessons on the cycle of life. Both of my children know that it took a hen 24-26 hours to make and lay the egg they are eating and they have an appreciation for the bird working so hard to make something they love to eat that they didn’t have when we bought eggs at the store. Prior to chicken keeping, there would regularly be eggs thrown out on a daily basis because my kids just didn’t grasp the value in what they were eating. They had a who cares attitude about food, mom can just buy more. However now, if the eggs are all gone then they have to wait for more because I won’t go buy eggs at the store and that means they won’t waste their eggs. Another lesson has been for our daughter, she is almost 8 and she knows so much about chickens it amazes me. She can tell you what every breed of chicken we have is, she can also tell you the color of the eggs they lay and she can tell you all about their anatomy. We have had her pluck a duck before and she has assisted with processing the chickens we have butchered. She understands what it takes to be a meat eater and that we can buy chickens at the store but it doesn’t mean as much as growing our chickens, knowing they had a great life however short it was and then turning them into a meal for our family. With our son being only 3 now, Chickens and ducks have helped us teach him the concept of gentle and playing nice. Sure we have cats and dogs, but they are far more sturdy than a day old chick. So being able to teach children lessons that many others don’t get at all or don’t get until later on is a major benefit.

Finally there is the fun of it. Sure you have to put a little work in but its always fun. There is not a day that goes by where you are not going to enjoy spending time outside with your birds. For one thing poultry can make great therapy animals, they have a calming presence about them and have helped me combat my own issues with anxiety. During the summer I will take a chair out to the chicken coop with a book and just sit with them and read, I go about my business and usually I end up with a chicken perched on my shoulder watching me, or I will sit in my front yard with my kids playing and all the smaller chickens roaming about. Chickens can be the type of poultry who like to be your friend, they enjoy following you around if you have treats, they are very curious about everything that you are doing so you will always have company when you are working even if you don’t want the company. Chickens can be pets as much as a dog or cat can, they all have very different personalities and they show those personalities off every chance they get.

Ducks can be a wild card. We have 2 ducks that love humans, we hatched them ourselves and Farmer Davis became their mama. He let them sleep under his beard and he took them out of town with him for work, he stood in the bath with them while they swam around and they imprinted and truly bonded to him. The rest of our ducks however like their distance. If we don’t look at them they stay put, but it we look like we are going to pick them up they scatter like feral cats. We have learned with our bigger ducks that they are happier if we provide the treats and stand back and watch the hilarity that ensues on a daily basis. From the waddle, to the hunting, to the splashing in a kiddie pool, to the hiding under anything they can, and watching them always walk in a line together to bed.

I am not lucky enough to have turkeys because Farmer Davis said I would grow too attached and we wouldn’t be able to eat them. The reason is because turkeys are the dog of the poultry world. They love their humans and want to be with them. If you have seen the youtube videos of turkeys sitting in the laps of their people getting scratches, its because they love people. I personally can’t eat my dogs even if the zombie apocalypse happened, so to say that I would be able to eat such a lovable bird that is so dog like would be a terrible lie on my part. But I have been lucky enough to spend enough time with turkeys to know that someday I will have my very own dog birds for pet purposes only.

 

Now go out and get some chickens, ducks, turkeys or whatever bird you want, you won’t regret it.

 

All for now, Nicole

 

Not all Eggs are the same

After reading several articles recently on eggs it got me really thinking about eggs and the myths and incorrect information people have about eggs. I’ve been an egg eater my whole life and my whole family LOVES eggs, we eat eggs daily so we go through a ton of eggs!

Lets talk about eggs you buy at the store. There are many different types of egg farms, last year you may remember all the stories about Bird flu impacting millions of chickens at farms in the Midwest. Those are big factory farms, they have huge warehouses  with row after row of cages stacked  on top of each other, 3 feet by 4 feet with 3-4 hens in each cage. These chickens don’t see daylight, they have overhead lighting on them 24 hours a day to increase production so they lay an egg every single day. So when one hen got sick they all got sick and it spread like wild fire through their warehouses. Most of the cheap eggs you buy at the store are from farms like that. Those hens are battery hens, they have one purpose, to make money for the farm. They live on wire cages, they don’t have dirt to clean themselves in, they don’t get fresh foods, they have no life except that cage with their hen friends. I’m sorry but the reason those eggs have yellow yolks is because they are not healthy hens who are given a well balanced diet. So think about where all those cheap eggs are coming from next time you are picking out your eggs.

Then you see the eggs that say Cage free, did you know that they may be cage free but that doesn’t mean they are outside, that just means they could be in a big warehouse with a dirt floor with a few thousand chickens. Next you walk down a little farther and you see eggs labeled Free Range, the only requirement to put free range on the label is 15 minutes a day outside in a pasture. 15 minutes is all they need to have the free range label. Finally you come across Pasture Raised, those are the eggs that if you are going to buy eggs at the store have the best chance of being from hens being raised humanely and happily. They are raised on grass pastures all day and then go inside to sleep at night. If i was going to buy eggs at the store those are the eggs I would buy.

Yet still no eggs at the store compare to farm fresh eggs, theres no way for them to compare and its partly because of the regulations the USDA has in place for “safety” but really they are opening us up to risk. The US is the only country that requires eggs being sold in stores to be washed and then refrigerated. So let me give you a lesson on how the hen lays an egg and why washing and refrigerating are not necessary. On the day the tiny little hen hatches from her egg she has all the millions of eggs she will ever have located in her ovary. Once that hen reaches maturity she will begin to grow her yolks, it takes 24-26 hours for a yolk that has been released from the ovary to travel down the oviduct while picking up all the parts of the egg to be laid. Once the egg has been fully formed and the shell made the final stage is the egg gets its bloom. The bloom is the protective layer on the outside of the egg shell that will keep everything inside the egg safe. Any egg that you buy at the store; cheap, cage free, free range, pasture raised, and organic have all been washed with chemicals that remove the bloom, then they will coat the eggs with either mineral oil aka petroleum product or vegetable oil and since the eggs bloom was removed during washing now the porous egg shell can absorb that coating they put on it into the egg white. Thats also the reason that eggs from the store are refrigerated, its not because eggs need to be refrigerated its because they removed the protective coating so they are covering their own asses. If bacteria gets onto the egg while its in the fridge it can get into the egg and you will get sick, but with fresh unwashed eggs with their bloom intact that would not be the case. Now you know the dirty details of store bought eggs, its an ugly practice that I thankfully have not had to support in 2 years.

I get asked a lot about the color of the egg shell and I also have people tell me they only eat brown eggs because they taste better, which I unfortunately have laughed in many peoples faces when that statement gets made. The color of the shell does not determine anything about the egg, not the nutrient value, flavor, or color of yolk. The color of the shell is determined by the breed of chicken, there are many colors and varieties within each color category. If you were to get eggs from me you may get white, brown, tan, cream, dark brown, blue, light green or olive green, eggs from the blue family are blue throughout the shell but brown eggs are white that have been “painted” brown in the chickens shell maker, if you scrub hard enough on a brown egg you will get to the white shell. I guess thats part of what makes statements like “brown eggs taste better than white eggs” so hilarious to me, because they are essentially eating a white egg.

So what exactly determines the quality of the egg and the flavor? Its what the chicken eats of course. If a chicken gets to eat lots of grass and greens, bugs and worms in addition to a chicken feed, then they are going to have orange yolks. Orange yolks mean healthy nutrient rich eggs, not yellow yolks. Its funny because as I’m writing this I know that my laying flock isn’t getting as much grass as they want because we are at the muddy season in the backyard so their yolks are lightening, however because they have access to barley and weeds and other sources their yolks are still darker than anything you buy in the store. Come spring time when the grass is able to grow again, my chickens eggs will have dark orange yolks again.

Where you buy your eggs matters, so next time you are strolling through the market and trying to decide if its worth it to spend the extra money on eggs remember this blog and spend the money! I understand that not everyone has access to a farmer friend like me, but if you look a little you can find someone selling truly fresh eggs not too far from you. Support local not big factory farms who abuse these special animals who provide so much for us!

 

Thanks for reading!

Nicole

Building houses for the birds

There are so many things I wish we had known before we built houses for our Chickens and Ducks, so I’m not going to tell you how to build a coop because there are plenty of tutorials online already. I’m just going to tell you all the stuff no one mentioned and would have been of tremendous help beforehand.

I’ll start from the top, the roof. We decided to go with tinted plastic roofing so the chickens would get plenty of light and sun, what a great idea we thought! Sure it was a great idea, all the way up until the end of June when we were in our longest daylight hours. All that extra light and sun we thought would be so amazing for our chickens was no longer all that amazing when they were waking up at 4 am crowing and singing with the sun. They’re not so cute anymore when you can’t keep your window open during the summer without their extremely loud serenade not just when they wake up but every time they lay an egg or when their friend lays an egg and they cheer them on. No one else seemed to care about our roosters crowing and hens singing so now we just go with it, but if you live with neighbors who do care DONT get see-through roofing.

On to the house itself, when we built ours we decided to raise it off the ground so the chickens could have the extra space as part of their run. It seemed like a really smart idea, however once again I screwed myself. No matter how many clever tools I seem to come up with, poop scooping underneath a coop that is no more than 24 inches off the ground is a pain in the ass!!!!!! Sure I could send my daughter under there to clean it up but what kid ever does a great job while poop scooping, and what would take an adult a few minutes to do ends up taking children hours. So be smart when designing your coop, if you want a raised coop thats great just raise it high enough so you can get under it to properly clean it. You will thank me when you aren’t on your hands and knees in chicken crap.

Chicken coop and run flooring, I’ve tried it all and I can say without a doubt that sand is the best way to go both for the health of your chickens and your own sanity. Let me explain all the things I have tried. First thing I tried inside my chicken house was shavings on the floor, it was a mess and it was not easy to poop scoop so the chickens were walking in their poop on the way to the nest boxes every day getting my eggs all dirty. Removed that and put sand inside the coop as well as the run, poop scoop first thing in the morning and I had clean eggs again. On my next coop we put the run right on top of the grass thinking the chickens would dig up the grass and roots then we would just do sand, haha what do you know there is still dirt in the run. Why doesn’t dirt work you may wonder, well you can’t easily scoop poop so it smears around and worse than that you are removing a bunch of dirt and throwing it in compost all the time, eventually you will need to replace that dirt and if you don’t have a big pile of extra dirt it will cost you money. Finally I have tried putting straw on the floor of the run as well and its a smelly disgusting mess, don’t do it unless you have to!

I wish someone had told me these things prior to me building my coops, maybe I just didn’t ask the right questions or maybe I wasn’t patient enough through the design and building process. What I know now is that I would do many things different if given the opportunity and I will likely make some changes as I go along and build bigger better coops. But these few things would have saved us time time and money had we known in the beginning.

 

Thanks for reading tonights dirty lessons,

Nicole

 

Why we do it…

I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked, “Why do you do it?” and frankly there is no simple way to explain why we do it. There are so many reasons for doing everything we do, from the animals to the garden to transforming our entire front yard into growing space. So lets start at the very beginning, I’ve always been into gardening flowers as well as growing food. When I was a little girl my grandma came to my house every spring with planters and flowers, she showed me how to transplant flowers and take care of them. When we purchased our house I had every intention of putting a vegetable garden in at some point, I just didn’t know when I would do it or in what part of our yard. We started with a small flower bed under our front window that we could enjoy from inside as well as outside. Chloe was 5 at the time and watching her help plant and nurture our bulbs and pretty flowers felt so good. She was growing and caring for something like she never had before. I thought to myself, “Wow, a 5 year old gets that it takes work to get to the end result.” She was amazing. But then Kindergarten came that September and I watched my beautiful, intelligent, sweet, loving, kind, responsible, respectful 5 year old daughter begin to change. She began to fight with us about everything, she didn’t think she should have to clean up her own toys, she didn’t think she should have to eat the meal prepared for her, and the list grew every day. Chloe was exhibiting all the behaviors of a child believing she was entitled to everything she wanted and there would be no consequences for her actions. She was throwing the lunch I so carefully packed for her in the garbage every day and had no problem lying to my face about it. She was totally unphased by all her consequences and I was at a total loss. After that first 5 months in school and having those be the worst months my family had ever experienced, we began discussing our options. Do we pull her out of public school and homeschool her? We certainly couldn’t reward her behavior by signing her up for activities she wanted to do, we couldn’t give in and let her do what she wanted. Micah and I spent weeks talking every night about our daughter and the fact that she was being influenced at school so much that we didn’t even recognize her. It was then that my friend got his first baby chicks and a light bulb went off for me. What if we showed her all the work it took to feed the family? What if we made her help us with growing our food? What if we guided her back to her old self with the thing she loves the most in this world, animals? It was a risky move but we were willing to do anything to get our daughter back. She may hate reading this when she is older and may even be embarrassed to learn that this all started because of her, but I don’t really care. We saved our sanity and our daughter in one move.

People always ask if we are doomsday prepping, I would never classify what we do as preparing for the zombie apocalypse, but I can say there is some security in knowing I could care for my family at least for a few months should something major happen in our corner of the world. Not only am I growing foods for our family 12 months a year but I’m also teaching very valuable life experiences to both my children that can be helpful for them should we find ourselves in a wartime situation or worse a zombie domination. Just saying.

I was in no way raised on a farm or with a lot of animals. My parents (forgive me for saying this) were very anti animal with the exception of cats. They discouraged all my attempts at saving animals, loving all animals even my pet worms I had as a young girl. So farming itself is way out of the norm for how I was raised. There is nothing wrong with being raised the way I was, I grew up in a perfect huge house with a perfectly landscaped minimal maintenance yard, but that just wasn’t enough for how I wanted to raise my children.  Farmer Davis however was influenced by a family who grew crops and raised animals. Frequently he told me of his mother, aunts and grandmother spending days in the kitchen preserving and preparing many months of food that they had grown and picked. To me, that sounded like a lot of work but with a huge benefit. Our first summer I only had a few containers of veggies I grew, but I found that both my children would basically eat anything I grew for them instead of getting the automatic response of yuk when I tried feeding them veggies.  I also learned after we got our chicks that I could grow a lot of food for next to no cost that would also feed my chickens. So why not feed the whole lot of us with things i had proudly grown. So once I figured out that Chickens and gardening go hand in hand I was all about getting some raised beds in place as soon as possible. The spring of 2014 was our first attempt at gardening, it was a pretty pathetic attempt if I do say so myself. We only had 6 inch tall beds and I knew nothing of square foot gardening, but we learned a lot. My kids still helped me in the garden everyday, pulling weeds, poop scooping the chicken coops to add to the compost for the next year, finding foods that had grown and eating said veggies and fruits before they made it inside.

Finally, and heres my soap box piece of the pie, the more I have learned about our farming industry and the lack of humane treatment of animals the more I can’t stand to purchase animal products from stores. I love animals so much and they can all be given a good life and then serve a purpose. However humane treatment of animals is not cheap and its not cost effective. Its disgusting to me to have pigs that live in a huge barn with no room for them to move around let alone get out and enjoy some sun and then be hauled off to be butchered. I can’t say we are at a place of being totally self sufficient yet, but every year we are getting one step closer and as long as I can say that I’m doing my part then I can sleep at night. I’ve already cut way back on the meats we buy at the store, the majority of chicken is from chickens we have grown ourselves. We now have goats so we will soon be able to have our own milk and we have plans to raise 2 pigs a year so we will have 1 for us and 1 to trade for a humanely raised half cow. We are taking steps and we are making changes. We can’t do it overnight but we have plans and we are putting them to action. Getting off my soapbox now, don’t hate me!

The biggest thing I can say about why we do what we do is, Why not? We have the means, its fun, educational, it all tastes amazing and the best part is we are all happy doing it.

 

Thanks for reading todays thoughts!

Nicole

First comes Chickens, then comes Ducks!

As my husband, Farmer Davis says, theres no cuter baby animal in the world than a duckling. This was not even 5 days after getting our first baby chicks. I wish I could say I had a leg to stand on in the argument of whether or not we would get ducklings so soon after getting chicks, but I did initially say I would spend a year researching and then I did go get our first chicks while he was out of town. Basically I had lost the argument before it even began, he was getting his ducklings and I had no idea how to raise ducks or how different they in fact are. Here are some facts that no one really tells you when you are reading about ducks, sure they are cute and funny to watch, they are way more hardy than chickens and they even lay more eggs for longer. But what no one tells you is they are disgusting, smelly, mud making, hole digging, plant killing, water splashing mess makers that rival a couple feral toddlers who smear their diapers on the walls. If you can deal with all that then ducks will be just fine for you!

Now that you’ve heard the real truth, let me break it down for you and explain. We decided to find a Pekin duck breeder locally, but the closest one with ducklings available at the time was an hour away. I made the call and found out she had 2 week olds and 4/5 day olds, so we made our appointment. We loaded our kids in the car and drove up there the very next day. We arrived at this beautiful vintage farmhouse, it had this amazing grass yard, a little fenced in pond area with 4 perfectly white adult pekins floating along. We followed the breeder to where she housed all the ducklings under the heat because the mama ducks didn’t hatch them out, they were incubator hatched. Farmer Davis was right, they were the cutest things I’ve ever seen and heard. There were about 20 in total to choose from and she explained that she doesn’t sex them at hatch so it was a 50/50 shot at getting girls, we later found out we ended up with 2 boys. We let the kids pick out 2 tiny yellow ducklings, loaded them into the box and headed home. The poor ducklings quacked the whole way home and were so terrified of us. No one really tells you that if you don’t hatch ducklings yourself so they imprint on you that they will always be a little scared of you. What is imprinting? Geese are the only animal who’s imprint is stronger than a duck. When a duck is growing in the egg, they can hear the sounds and voices around them, for most ducklings its their mother duck. Once a duckling hatches they know that sound and within days they will imprint on the sight of their mother also. Its a bond thats created to keep the flocks together, the babies will grow up with their family and always stay together. Like I said its stronger than any other bond, stronger than a dog to a human. When we hatched our own ducklings in 2015, they imprinted on Farmer Davis and would sleep under his beard, the best way to explain it is that they didn’t just think he was their mom, they knew it. A full year later, they still follow him around, they know he is their person, when they hear his voice they both start quacking until he goes to calm them down and acknowledge their presence.

So we get home with these scared little yellow fuzzy loud ducklings, we decided to keep them in a plastic bin with a wire lid for good ventilation in the laundry room with our chicks. Since I had gone with medicated feed for my chicks, I had to go buy non medicated feed for the ducks because they can’t have the medicated feed. aside from that I set it all up the same, clean bedding, a bowl so they could dip their bills all the way into the water and a deeper dish for food. Lesson one, ducks of all ages will attempt to get in their water, no matter what the size! Within an hour the water was dumped and the tub was soaked. Since new ducklings are all down with no feathers they need to be dry. Solution to this problem was to put a puppy pad under the shavings to at least help soak up some of the excess wetness. This helped for those first couple weeks while they were inside. The poop and smell problem also comes immediately. Let me tell you the biggest difference between chicks and ducklings is that chicks have the tiniest little poops for several weeks, ducklings come out of the egg pooping these huge very wet stinky and messy poops, mostly due to the size difference but also because duck poo contains more water than chick poo. There is only one way to combat the smell and mess, cleaning out the shavings every day, and as they grow you may have to do it twice a day.

We made it to 10 days old without any incidents, we had done as much reading on ducks as we could between what we call our poultry bible and Storey’s guide to raising ducks. We were fairly certain we would not kill them by letting them go for a swim so we put 3 inches of warm water in the bathtub and put them in. Up until this point we had no idea if our ducklings were happy or not, putting them in the bathtub confirmed what happy sounded like. They were transformed into little submarines, splashing about and zooming back and forth. We had been told that domestic ducks would be fine without a pool or pond as long as they had a deep enough bowl of water to dip their whole bill in. Witnessing the complete 180 in their behavior confirmed that they may be able to survive without a water source but they would not live happily without it. We set out to find some kiddie pools for them because I was not going to raise unhappy ducks, I was going to provide them with their own oasis. Since they were still yellow balls of fluff we made sure to dry them off as much as possible before returning them to their bin to warm up under their heat lamp. We continued with the daily bathtub routine until they had enough feathers to play outside in a little tupperware tub I had originally purchased for my sons toys. When Farmer Davis built the garage brooder box for our chicks he made it 2 sided with hardware cloth separating the ducks from the chicks, so each side was 3’x4′ with two separate lids. What I didn’t know was that over the first 6 weeks of having ducklings that he was going to bring home 4 more. When our Pekins were about 4 weeks old, he showed up with two 3 week old Khaki Campbells that were half the size of the Pekins. Then a few weeks later he brought home 2 brand new Ancona ducklings that were the tiniest of all the ducks we had gotten. I was smitten by these two yellow and black spotted ducklings. My first experience with love of a duckling.

Here we are a few weeks into the whole experience, we have the ducks and chicks separate because if chicks get wet they can die from getting cold and ducks make such a big mess of water. At this point we had the chicks in their brooder, we had the Khaki’s and Anconas in the duck side of the brooder and the gigantic Pekins we had to move into a makeshift house of linoleum flooring and the kids outdoor playpen. All the ducks were still scared to death of us however they would calm down and allow us to hold them, but we were learning that the ducks would be animals for watching and that was ok with us.

We were racing to finish the chicken and duck house at this point. Everyone was growing fast, stinking up the garage and making huge messes. Even I can admit that with all the disgusting messes and smells that came from those brooders, they provided hours of excitement, fun, laughter and cuddles. Stay tuned to read more about what happens when the chicks and the ducks are moved outside!

Chickens: The Gateway Animal

Two years ago if someone told me that I would have any animal aside from cats and dogs I would have told them they were crazy, correction I would have said they have lost their damn mind because I would never in my life have farm animals. Knowing all that I know now, I can honestly say that Chickens are the gateway to all other farm animals. When I first started reading about chickens I was so overwhelmed and scared of killing them, there are so many things that can go wrong and of course every single book makes you think you will kill them all in the first two weeks of life. Let me correct this notion for you, they actually aren’t that easy to kill. Even freshly hatched chicks are pretty hardy if you follow the basic instructions. You can go with the bare minimum of food, water, heat and clean bedding or you can get super fancy and mix electrolytes into their water, get medicated feed and even dust their bedding to protect from bugs. Lets go back a few steps before getting into all that.

Did you know there are hundreds of different breeds of chickens? And they have a range of purposes. First things first, you need to decide what you want chickens for. We wanted egg laying chickens, no meat chickens in the beginning. Lets face it, I have a bleeding heart and could never in my wildest dreams butcher a chicken that I have loved and raised and cared for from hatch. So its pretty easy to come up with a list of desired breeds that will get us the most eggs to feed our family. Next you need to decide quantity of chickens that will feed your family. I have a pretty simple way of figuring out how many are needed, it all depends on how many eggs you need a week. For example, most egg laying breeds will give you at least 5 eggs a week per chicken. So If you go through a dozen eggs a week you probably can get by with 3 chickens. If you are like my family when we were looking at this we were going through 4 dozen a week so we needed at least 12 chickens to support our habit. If you get more, you can sell the extra to help pay for feed or give them to neighbors to say thanks for putting up with my loud singing hens everyday. You can’t really go wrong with too many chickens. Once you know how many you want, then you need to decide how you will house them. Egg laying breeds are smaller chickens, they don’t get as big as dual purpose or meat chickens because they put all their extra energy into egg laying not building their meat. So for an enclosed coop an egg layer needs 3-4 sq/ft per bird and for an enclosed run area 8-10 sq/ft per bird. I had Micah put a fence up separating our front and back yard so we could have lots of safe free range space for them. We built an enclosed house with a run attached so when we were gone they would be safe or if there were flying predators we could get them to safety. But 99% of the time they are free ranging in our back yard rain or shine. You want to think about where you want to put the coop also, you don’t want to put it in a place in the yard you never go to or can’t see at all because you need to remember to care for your chickens. The last thing you need to decide is where you will get your adorable chicks from. Our first chickens were mostly from the feed store, we didn’t know any better so we ended up with hatchery birds. What most new chicken owners don’t know is hatcheries sex day old chicks and dispose of the roosters by grinding them up alive. Its a horrific fact of the hatchery business that I no longer support. As hard as it is when you walk into the feedstore to walk past those bins full of chicks that have been shipped from who knows where and under who knows what conditions, I beg of you please do not continue to support their barbaric practices by purchasing chicks there. There are so many chicken breeders all across the nation and world who truly care for their birds and take great care in their breeding practices to purchase new chicks from. Ok I’m off my soap box now and moving on.

Ok, so we got home with our first chicks. They were fluffy, adorable and peeped like loud little fire engines. They were perfect! We used our large dog crate as the brooder in the laundry room and set it all up with shavings, food, water and a heat source. I was like a crazy mommy who had just brought her newborn home from the hospital. I kid you not, I was checking the temperature every hour to make sure I wasn’t cooking or freezing them. All day and all night for the first week I was an absolute mess! Do you remember being a first time parent and checking to make sure your baby was breathing every few minutes they were sleeping and even waking baby up to make sure? Well thats what being a new chicken mommy is like. When baby chicks sleep they look dead, a big pile of dead baby chicks that you just have to bump into the brooder they are living in just to make sure they are alive. It gets easier though. I learned that if they are eating, drinking, running around and then sleeping off and on during the day they are just fine. We also made sure we were handling them several times a day, not just me but every person in the house had to hold them all at least once a day, even Wade our 1 year old with help from us. It didn’t take long before we were singing to the chicks and made up a chicken call when we brought treats to them so they would learn early on to come when called and they would be given treats. Within a week they were perching on our shoulders and knew that being held meant they would get chin and ear scratches which they loved! You can have chickens that are scared of you and have no relationship with their humans or you can have chickens who come to you when called, follow you around the yard, will jump on your back or shoulder when you are cleaning their space and will give hours of fun entertainment; we chose the latter. Its so much easier to check on your chickens health and well being if they will let you hold them and inspect them. I highly recommend giving them a little time everyday, it will be of greater benefit in the long run.

It takes about 8 weeks for your chicks to be fully feathered, they will need to be under heat that entire time. Its not like you can just throw them outside and they will survive. After the initial 2 weeks in our laundry room they had outgrown their dog crate brooder and it was time for an upgrade. Farmer Davis built a 3’x4′ plywood box with a removable chicken wire lid in our garage. Chickens are dusty and man did they spread it around! I was very happy when they went into the garage, they were still close for easy visits, they had their heater so I didn’t have to worry about them freezing and they had enough space to grow until they had all their feathers. We put a little roost in the new brooder so they could learn to sleep while roosting, gave them a pan filled with dirt and sand for dust bathing and they had their food and water raised off the ground. Two things to know about chicks, they love to kick all their food out of the feeder and then they will scratch around looking for the food they so carelessly spread all over the floor of their home. Dirty little things! Where do all those shavings go that they are kicking all about, well in their water of course! You also need to know that chickens keep themselves clean by taking a dust bath, they flail and roll around in dirt spreading it everywhere, getting the dirt all over themselves and then shake it all off… thats why you end up with dust all over the entire room they are living in.

You may think that 8 weeks won’t come soon enough however by the time their first set of feathers has come in, you will think it was a year! However, do not wait to build their big house, give yourself some extra time because something will inevitably slow you down or you will want to make changes. So make a plan, and due to chicken math make it bigger than what you think you will want to have. What is chicken math you say? Chicken math is what happens when you get your first chicks, you say oh I only need 6 chickens. Well I can promise you that you will want more. It only took me 4 weeks to experience chicken math first hand. Over the course of the last 2 years, I have been bit by the chicken math bug time and time again. At one point my chicken numbers hit 40 chickens, I’m currently sitting around 30 chickens total. So if you don’t want to end up with more than 1 chicken coop, plan to build it bigger than what you think you want, your numbers will grow. Either by seeing new baby chicks for sale online of some rare breed you think is so beautiful (happened to me twice) or an orphaned chicken is looking for a home, or best yet a chicken somehow wonders into your yard and never leaves. So just be smart so you don’t have to rebuild, add on or build a whole new coop. If you don’t plan ahead like me you will end up with 3 chicken coops and 2 duck houses spread out all over your yard.

The first 8 weeks are exciting, scary, nerve wrecking, funny and full of love. Enjoy it and don’t worry about not knowing everything from the beginning, you will always learn new things and can never know it all!!