Every year, about this time, children all over the U.S. go all dreamy eyed and have a hard time concentrating in school. Who can blame them. Summer vacation is looming large just ahead. For our district it begins next week. The time has come to drag out the shorts and swimsuits, put away all the winter clothes, and start thinking about what to do with these kids for an entire summer. We have one kid that is planning a celebration bonfire in our back yard. She couldn't be more excited to see the back of the school year. Our other grade school-er is not so amused. She loves school so much that even Christmas vacation is too long for her. She never wants to take a sick day, or miss even part of a school day for any reason. Mondays are her favorite day. So, staring down the barrel of a three month long vacation is already causing her consternation. It's looking to be a long summer for her and for me.
I'll be honest, I don't have the first idea what I'm going to do to entertain these kids, but, I do have Pinterest, and we're starting a pseudo backyard farm, so, maybe it won't be too bad after all. Plenty of chores to do, and when things slow down, they can always pick a Pinterest idea and we can go with it. My preference is to just take summer as it comes, and not pre-plan things. If we decide to just jump in the car and go to the aquarium, then it's a great surprise. On the other hand, if we had planned to go to the aquarium and something happened that prevented us from going, it's going to be a disappointment. Kids moan and groan enough without giving them a reason.
We have our new baby chicks, who are not so babyish anymore. The youngest four are looking a bit like those Jim Henson characters in the Dark Crystal, the skeksies. The oldest 8 are looking like almost chickens, some more than others, and just need to finish filling out and getting their final feather patterns grown in. Two are meat chickens, so, they are just about ready to become frozen chicken, and one is the spare rooster that is not too far behind the meat chickens as far as his fate is concerned.
I'll get some pics posted this week.
We've added two more growing spots for a total of three, and have compost working on a fourth spot. This fall we plan to expand all four spots by spreading cardboard, and compost on the areas we want to expand into. The weight and moisture will kill off the sod, and the snow over winter will break it all down into tillable compost.
Next spring we hope to add a beehive to the yard. Maybe even some quail to raise for meat. We're still looking at the possibility of moving to some acreage, but, we're so tied to this area for now that we'll make do, and with all the projects I have planned for the summer, and the harvesting and canning that we have already started (thank you Bountiful Baskets for all the great produce that keeps coming.), I hope to keep these kids so busy that school will seem like a welcome rest. Sure, there will be plenty of play time, night games, camping in the backyard, swimming in the pool (we invested in a 15 foot wide 3 foot deep wading pool last year and it was a great investment), and all the festivals we attend over the summer (love the Scottish Festivals the most, but there is also the Asian fest and the city festivals), and the endless backyard bbq's. It's going to be a great summer.
When we embarked on our latest epic journey, that of raising chickens for fresh eggs, we had every intention of only purchasing laying hens. No roosters, no meat chickens, just laying hens. But, in our zeal and enthusiasm, we weren't as careful as we thought we were in picking out the individual "hens". I had thought pullet meant older chick, but, it apparently indicates female chicken or hen. There is a new terminology in my vocabulary. Straight run. No one told me to be aware of this term, and I don't recall reading about it when researching chickens. This would have been valuable information to have, but, alas, we forged ahead, blissfully unaware of the risks we were taking by not knowing about this term.
While I was still in the middle of researching raising chickens, my dear husband Tim, on an errand for some DIY home repair stuff, wound up in one of the local farm and feed stores at just the right time for anyone looking to buy baby chicks. Yes, we had determined to not get brand new babies. I had no desire to set up a brooder, or worry over babies. I just wanted to get chickens who were still young enough to kind of bond to us and trust us, but, old enough to start laying eggs in a short time frame. Plus, no brooder needed.
This was not going to be our fate.
I get a phone call that afternoon from him saying "you have got to come up to Cal Ranch, they have baby chicks and I think they have the Auracanas you wanted." Being an animal lover has often gotten me into trouble, and this was going to be a repeat incident, because I immediately hopped into my car and headed out. I stopped at Tractor Supply on the way, because they were also advertising baby chicks, and I wanted to see who was offering the better deal. Tractor Supply had a better price, but you had to buy a minimum of 6 chicks. Their selection was small, and most of the chicks were mixed up in a huge watering trough for display purposes. No Auracanas either. So, I took that information and went to Cal Ranch to meet up with Tim.
There in the middle of the store was a display of about half a dozen or more large aquariums filled with various breeds of chicks, each breed separated into it;s own aquarium, including one that said, and I am only going from memory, Americauna. I had remembered something about there being different chicken breeds that were similarly named to Auracanas but were not truly that breed of chicken.
Still, the babies were so adorable, and I quickly fell in love with one particular little silver baby that was obsessed with chasing my finger along the glass. I did not see or even know to look for any indication of pullet vs straight run, so, I was only looking for specific chicks in the Americauna aquarium. The price at Cal Ranch was not much different, but, it was enough that we decided to just get two Americaunas here and then 6 more chicks at Tractor Supply to save a little money overall.
We were very clear with each store that we only wanted hens, no roosters, but, either the salespersons were uneducated about the subject or they just were not interested in being helpful to us newbs, because somehow we ended up bringing home three, count them, three roosters. No one at either store told us that the chicks were straight run or what that meant. Now with the "Americaunas" it is very difficult to tell at that age whether it is a roo or a hen, because they look pretty much identical, but, the least they could have done was say, there was a chance.
After watching the three chicks show all the signs of being roosters it was so hard to have become so attached to that little silver chick just to have to face the fact that it will probably need to be culled. When she started crowing last week that was the final confirmation that yes, Hazel is a boy.
We also discovered that Cleopatra is also a boy. Again, it was a risk, because they were straight runs. The thing that really made me scratch my head was the revelation that two of our adorable little chicks were actually bred to be meat chickens. No one said anything about that in the buying process. So, as little Aria and Desi grew larger and fatter than all the others, we were concerned that, especially with Aria, they were having trouble walking, moving about, and tended to spend most of their time just eating and sleeping. After just a little more research on some chicken keeper forums, I found out why. I knew they were Cornish Rocks, but, had no idea there was such a thing as a Cornish X, which is just a Cornish Rock that is bred as a meat chicken.
So, that means we have two roos and two meat chickens in our flock of eight. That further means that half of our flock is headed for butchering. Now, on the face of it that is upsetting when you figure our investment is going down by 50%, minus the meat we will get out of it, but, we aren't entirely sold on butchering our roos, at least not both of them. Our thinking is that if we are really preparing for the possibility of needing to be self sustaining, then, having two roos will insure the future of both our egg and our meat production. One will do okay, but, what if something happens to him? Two is more insurance.
Still, we are definitely going to be butchering the two meat chickens, and that led us to looking at replacements. I did more research on the best egg layers that are cold weather hardy and that led us to Rhode Island Reds, which some of the feed stores in our area had when we got our first run of chicks, Welsummers, and a few other breeds. The Welsummers are hard to find other than at a breeder, and we couldn't afford to spend the 35 dollars and up just for shipping of two chicks, so, we settled on waiting til next spring and hope that the feed stores have some Rhode Islands in stock.
Low and behold, we were in Cal Ranch picking up chick feed and guess what. They had a whole new batch of chicks, including a bin full of Rhode Island Reds. We got two of them, and were very careful to pay attention to see if the label on the bin said Pullets. While we were waiting for them to be boxed up, Tim noticed two little Silver Laced Wyandotte chicks , also labeled pullets, sitting on their own, left overs from a larger batch that had already been chosen. He fell in love, and they were then boxed with the two RIR's.
And here they are,,,
We are also planning to buy one, perhaps two, rooster collars that have been found to reduce if not eliminate a rooster's tendency to crow loudly, which was our concern about keeping our roos in the first place.
And so, our chicken adventure continues.
I'm a mother of eleven children, wife of 32 years, Latter Day Saint, and 911 Dispatcher and a budding homesteader. Come along with me as I journey toward self sufficiency, one baby step at a time.
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