Holly is our eleven year old daughter. She was born in Huangshi China, and joined our family in 2010 at five years old. Nia is a ten month old White Leghorn. As a rule, leghorns are flighty and don't really have much interest in human interaction. For the most part that is true of her, but, not when it comes to Holly.
When we got chickens, Holly wasn't as interested or excited as the other kids. She didn't like that they would poop in your hand if you held them, and they didn't seem to want to bond with her, or anybody. Only one of them held any interest for her and that was the one she named Nia after a character in a Ninja video game. She would pick her up, and walk around with her, talking to that little chick and just spending time with her. Once Nia was big enough to be outside, Holly wanted her to remember those times, but, Nia, like all the other chickens, was more interested in all the great outdoors and would run when anyone tried to approach her. That made Holly more determined to remind Nia that they were friends.
She would relentlessly follow Nia around until she could corner her and pick her up. Surprisingly, Nia didn't resist, and after a short time something special happened. Nia bonded to Holly.
Whenever Holly goes into the yard Nia comes trotting up to her waiting to be picked up. Holly proudly parades her pet chicken around the yard and Nia is not too anxious to be put down. She is content to just be with Holly and will often fall asleep in her lap. So, in the end, maybe all that time Holly spent with Nia actually worked out.
This is Morticia. She is a seven month old Black Austrolorp. Isn't she beautiful? Those soft, dark eyes, the contrast of the red comb and wattles to her shiny black feathers, that shine in a green-blue iridescence when the sunlight hits them. And she is sweet, oh, so sweet. There isn't a mean bone in her whole body.
his is Cordelia. She is a ten month old Rhode Island Red. She does have beautiful glossy red feathers, and she lays a beautiful brown egg nearly every day, but, when this girl looks you in the eye, there is something not so sweet about her. She is a bully.
I've often said about people that every good or bad thing they do is in response to one of two emotions, Love or Fear. I think it applies to animals, chickens included. I see this little red hen as being very afraid of losing her position in our flock to the very popular Morticia. And that is a valid fear, because we have considered re-homing Cordelia, and to date that is not off the table of solutions to the problem. She doesn't know that. All she knows is that she is not the top chicken, that title belongs to Mochi, one of our very productive White Leghorns.
The pecking order goes something like this.
Mochi is top chicken. She is a scrabbly, squawky Leghorn, with a single red comb that flops to one side like a 50's rockabilly singer. Mochi has earned her place by domineering all the other chickens. She will forever need to defend that spot and on at least one occasion was left with blood on her feathers, her own blood, from a dispute for the title.
Nia, the other White Leghorn, is second in command. Early on Nia and Mochi, being birds of a feather, made an alliance. Nia was content with being second as long as she was not third. Nia is my eleven year old daughter, Holly's, favorite chicken. Whenever Holly comes out into the yard, Nia comes a runnin, sqwakking all the way, begging to be picked up.
Now here is where it starts to get fuzzy.
The next three chickens in the order, at least for now, are Lacey (Silver Laced Wyandotte), Chief Running Fluff (the oldest of the Easter Eggers), Cordelia (the Bully), and Tikka (Buff Orpington). Lacey, Chief, and Cordelia have been vying for the third spot in the order for months. It used to be securely Chief's spot, until Lacey and Cordelia matured and started laying eggs. There were some spats, but, Chief relinquished her spot when she started molting, and has only recently started feeling more like herself, and so the order is not quite settled. Lacey and Cordelia are basically like sisters, because they were brooder mates together, so, they, like Mochi and Nia, have an alliance. Tikka, well, she is so sweet and docile, she really doesn't care where she is in the order as long as she gets to eat.
All of the six older girls are laying eggs. Not every day. But most days. We average four eggs every day. Since Chief has been molting she hasn't laid any eggs, it's been a couple of months, but, I expect she will start again soon.
Now that the younger six are starting to lay eggs, they are also going to be moving up in the pecking order, and that isn't good for the older six. There will be fighting. There will be pecking. There will be some that move up, and some that move down. Now let me introduce the other six.
First, in order of egg laying status, for lack of a better way to sort them, is Morticia. She, as said earlier, is sweet, and beautiful. She carries herself in such a regal fashion, very much like her namesake. We used to have her brother, Wednesday, but, that's another story.
Next is Loralei. She is a Black Cuckoo Marans. She laid her first egg today, and it was a dark brown, like chocolate. Loralei is demure, and gentle. She loves to chit chat with me, and is fine being wherever she ends up in any pecking order. She is a pacifist.
Then, from the looks of the way she is acting, is Rosie, a gorgeous flaming brass Easter Egger. Now she could give the others a run for their money. She is scrappy, and a bit flighty, but, so far, happy to just be in the middle of the flock. She's been acting lately like she wants to lay an egg. In chickens, if you reach for them and they squat down, they are ready to start laying eggs, but, the only other indicator is their comb. If it's red, they are ready, and hers is very red these days.
Next is the other Easter Egger, Bunny. She looks more like a pheasant, at least her feathers do, than a chicken. Bunny is strong willed, and doesn't take crap from anybody. Of them all, I see her vying for top spot some day. She is also acting like she will lay any day now.
The last two are my beautiful Salmon Faverolles, Pipi and Winnie. Pipi has ear muffs, and a very white chest. She is so funny, cracks us up all the time with her antics. She is also very passive, and docile. I can see her happily staying at the bottom of the order.
Winnie is only a little more confident than Pipi, but, still, she will probably only ever be above Pipi, and no one else. She has lots of orange spots on her chest, and is quite talkative.
Now that Morticia is laying eggs, the pecking order is in danger. She is going to be the largest chicken in the flock, unless Bunny keeps growing, so, she will have some weight to throw around. With her being so peaceful, I wonder if this isn't all a tempest in a tea pot. I guess we'll see.
Tomorrow is New Year's Eve 2015, and as we prepare to ring in 2016 it's time to set some goals. Not lofty, barely achievable goals. Nothing we cannot reasonably accomplish and feel good about. But, they should have some element of difficulty, too.
I have set the goal of running a 5K this year. My starting point is zero, mainly because I tore some cartilage and tendons in both my knees being over zealous with trying to become a runner over this past fall. I was in a brace for a few weeks, and have been taking it easy ever since. Now I can launch into a more reasonable training program of walking for at least a month before I start upping the ante. The 5K I plan to run is the Salem Days Family Fun Run which is always the second week in August. That should give me plenty of time to work up to a respectable running pace.
In the meantime, I also need to look at my work goals, housekeeping goals, parenting goals, and homesteading goals, oh and don't forget my prepping and food storage goals.
Housekeeping goals- finish squeezing the whole house like a tube of toothpaste, getting it completely de-junked and organized. I also want to finish some of the repairs and upgrades, like painting the kitchen and bath cabinets, refinishing the wood floors, putting a screen door on the kitchen/patio door, and washing all the walls and ceilings.
Parenting goals- take the kids on more outings, have regular family nights, develop some kind of scripture study with the kids.
Homesteading goals- put more garden space in the back yard, get a new spade, and rake, finish the chicken run, paint the coop inside and out and attach the shutters and trim, create a plan for obtaining a small farm.
Prepping goals- get a generator, collect more first aid supplies, obtain a Ham radio license.
Food Storage goals- Complete the 26 pay period food storage list (should be 12 pay periods remaining), replenish water storage and obtain a couple of barrels and pump, put more shelves in the basement and storage sheds.
So, those are my new year goals for 2016. As far as a resolution, well, I resolve to be less judgmental and more forgiving.
The progress was slow, but we finished the super coop just in time for a huge snow storm to blow in. And I do mean just in time. As we were finishing making the coop secure and warm, the sun set, and the clouds rolled in.
The frame was up and ready for walls and roofing the day before Thanksgiving. Windows were in, and the front door on. Then we had some weather challenges so the next step had to wait. Next Tim put up the plywood for the roof and papered it. He put the siding on, and was ready for shingles and more weather came in.
Then we had enough of a break that the shingles went on and ventilation was attached. Then it was time to work on the inside.
As the shed was a dual purpose building, we divided it in half, with the front half being storage and the back half being a chicken coop except for the rafters which would also be storage. We kept the eaves open for ventilation.
The divider is 2x3 boards creating a frame for the door and either a wall or just chicken wire on either side. We picked up an old storm door at Restore that has two windows that slide open with screening for more ventilation in the summer months. We covered the open areas with tarp for now, as the storm was threatening to be bitter cold and our girls were used to a much smaller space to keep warm in. We figured the tarp would help hold some of their body heat in. Once the storms let up, and we get a break we can finish making the permanent walls.
We attached one roosting bar for now, using an 8 foot 2x4. We have plans for a more permanent arrangement, but, this would do for now. We also attached a bar on either end to offer more space for the girls.
Since our turkey hen, Kris, would be sharing the coop with the girls, we brought her favorite chair from the patio into the coop. She has always shared a small playhouse with our tom turkey, Hank, but, as we butchered him for Thanksgiving, she has been alone all night every night, and I know she is lonely. I wasn't at all sure if she would accept sharing the roost with the chickens, so, I put a roost on the chair to help her make the transition and give her a spot all her own. She claimed it pretty quickly.
The floor was covered with two bags of pine shavings, and the nesting boxes were put on the floor, two on either side of the coop. We use 5 gallon buckets with nesting box attachments I ordered online that work a treat. We cut the coop door the next day, and I added two more bags of pine shavings. It's still not as deep as I want it, so, probably two more bags will do it. The door has been just a gaping opening the past week, but, today Tim is attaching the door.
We attached the run temporarily to the back of the coop because we knew how much snow was coming and we wanted the girls to have a dry, snow free place to go in the morning. Luckily we did, because it snowed all night and the next day. In the morning I shoveled a path for the girls to get around in, but, they really don't like this snow stuff and would much prefer we move to Florida if it weren't for all the alligators.
Anyway, we still have lots to do. The roosts, the droppings boards, a shelf and cover for the nest boxes and of course curtains on the boxes. We need to finish the interior wall, and then make the run twice as big. Then, I think maybe, we will be done.
Now that we are half way through November, it seems the weather is going to insist on reminding us that cold and flu season is actually part of the same time period that starts with Thanksgiving and ends with Easter. Not that I needed that reminder, but, apparently the fact that I have avoided having a bad head cold for so many years has insulted whichever magical being is in charge of phlegm because this past weekend I was hit by the worst cold I've had in a very long time. So, I spent the past four days basically coughing up a lung day and night.
I wouldn't mind really, if I could stay home, in my PJ's curled up with a hot drink just watching the weather blow in and out. The fact that I have to work for a living, even when I'm sick just makes me crabby. I took all of one day off, hoping to get it behind me and then schlepped my way into the office for a day that I hope is not busy, and doesn't require me to talk too much. I'm a dispatcher. That's not going to be an easy expectation to fulfill.
Still, the days I have had at home were certainly filled with their fair share of PJ's and hot drinks. Heck, I didn't even bother to put on makeup. Not once. It was great.
One week from now I will be feverishly trying to get on top of the holiday cooking for Thanksgiving dinner. For now, my preps involve taking the turkeys out for at least one hour a day. With an early snowfall on Monday the grass in the turkey pen is non existent. Even after the snow melted, the pen was not much more than mud. Hank has taken to pacing back and forth waiting for me to come out and take them on walk-about, so his feet are always muddy. I don't think he minds as long as Kris still finds him attractive.
I decided this year to slow down the decorating pace a bit, and just soak up the Fall experience a bit this year, so, most of the Christmas decorations are still in boxes. It's feeling kind of nice having some extra time this month to deep clean a little more. I've been purging quite a bit this summer. I liken it to squeezing the house like a toothpaste tube. Most of the time when I deep clean it's more like squeezing a tube from the middle. Some goes out the end like I want it to, but, some stays at the bottom where it just collects. I'm so done with all the junk we have accumulated over the years, and if we keep putting it back and never touch it except to move it out of the way then it just needs to go. I'm being ruthless and not letting anyone make emotional decisions or keeping things just because they "paid good money" for it. I want peace, I want serenity. It's not going to happen if we keep squeezing the tube from the middle. So, the basement is well on it's way to where I want it to be, and many of the other rooms in the house are as well.
As I bring my Christmas boxes up from the basement or down from the attic, they are getting the toothpaste tube treatment,, too. If I don't use an item this year, it really needs to have a good reason to be put back in a box and stored until next year.
We're slowly moving forward with the Super Coop, which will become the storage shed for my Christmas stuff, so, if I want to have room to move around, and to be able to share the shed area with chicken supplies, then I really need to be honest with myself about what I want to keep. Today Tim is picking up the wood for the rafters. I'm starting to get antsy to move my girls into a bigger space. The littles are having a harder and harder time finding a spot at night to roost without being picked on by some of the bigger girls. Then you add to that the weather turning wet and cold, and I really want to have a big indoor area for them to stay in when it's wet and stormy, and the run attached with tarps to give them an outdoor area that is dry and protected from the weather when they want to get out and scratch in the dirt. At least the turkeys have an end in sight to living in the winter weather. I set up a large piece of plywood to shelter the side of the playhouse they live in. It gives them a dry place outside the playhouse to scratch around or lay down if they want, and the playhouse itself is nice and dry with a big roost to sleep on. Kris likes to lay in the door way and watch the world go by, while Hank keeps up his all day vigil pacing back and forth like a palace guard. This time next week Kris will be in freezer camp and Hank will be brining in the fridge in the garage. I know, I know, that sounds very macabre. I just have to keep my head in the practical so I don't get attached to those big brown eyes.
The coop is shaping up nicely, thanks to the man I was smart enough to marry. For anyone that is a fan of the Red Green show, you will probably remember him always saying, "if she doesn't find you handsome, at least she'll find you handy". Well, my favorite was one episode where he said, "if she finds you handsome and handy, marry her". True words. Tim is willing to take on building a solid, and functional chicken coop that doubles as a shed, when he has never built anything like this before. It's looking amazing, too.
With the bird flu raging all Spring of 2015, and news of potential impacts on the turkey populations, it just felt like a good idea to hedge against the possibility of a shortage by raising our own Thanksgiving turkey this year.
Have I ever raised turkeys, you ask? Nope and I didn't know thing one about it either. I had only been raising my chickens for a few months, so, it isn't as if I was an expert poultry farmer or anything. All I could do is read what I could find on the internet and just jump in with both feet. Sort of what I do with most things in life.
First thing was to find turkeys, no wait, first things was to figure out how to house and feed them. That's right. What I learned about housing is that they aren't any different than chickens. They need more space, chickens use about 2 to 3 square feet per bird inside the coop, while turkeys need 4 to 6 square feet per bird, but, the type of housing is pretty similar. The one difference is the roosting. Turkeys like to be as high as possible. Well, chickens like to be up high too, but, turkeys will insist upon it, and will even look for nearby roofs and trees if their housing isn't to their liking.
As far as what they eat, at first it will be just a combination of chick starter and game bird feed. Turkeys apparently need more protein than chickens, so, anything I can do to up the protein content of their daily intake is a good thing. The one thing I was so glad I researched was the fact that turkeys can have a tendency to starve themselves when they are stressed. It isn't enough to just lay down some feed and water and wait for them to get hungry. They will literally refuse to eat even to the point of death.
The next thing to know is what breed of turkey I wanted to raise. There are tons out there, some heritage breeds, some rare breeds and the standard cross bred turkeys that are what most mass produced turkeys are.
So my goal was set, and the plans were in motion. Let the journey begin.
I can't believe it's been almost nine months since I started my little flock of laying hens. While that doesn't seem like a long time, it has taken me that long to really feel like I know what I'm doing.
Living in a semi rural area in Utah makes having chickens seem almost a requirement just to fit in with the neighborhood. So many of my neighbors either have now or have had in the past raised a flock of backyard chickens. Still, I didn't want to seem like a newb. I have my pride ya know. Having been the daughter of a former farmer's son, and with relatives that are all about farming, I have always figured I would be a natural at raising any kind of barnyard animal. Well....the learning curve was pretty steep given the fact that none of these farming relatives live anywhere near me.
And for that matter, Pinterest, Facebook, and Bloggers everywhere.
So, this is what I learned that hopefully will save you the stress and confusion I have had to go through in my first few months of raising chickens, and turkeys, too.
First, and this is the most important in my book, you have to know your local ordinances.
If you live in a city, a suburb, or a rural community, the rules may surprise you. There is no rhyme or reason to the way each area constructs their rules. You could find yourself just as likely to be able to have eight chickens in a big city as you are to be able to have only a few or none in a suburb. It can be dependent on your lot size, or any city covenants, or just because. Many groups have been formed to lobby their city councils to allow backyard chickens and have had great success. The number of backyard flocks has grown quite a bit in recent years as the popularity of raising chickens has become more and more popular.
This article on the WorldWide Institute website published on November 3, 2015, details some of the figures and statistics.
So, find out your particular city ordinances, and then make your plans. Either you will be able to forge ahead with your plans, or you may find yourself attending your next city council meeting to work towards changing that ordinance. If you find yourself facing a battle, you may want to search sites like backyardchickens.com to find other like minded people in your area that may be more than anxious to help with the battle.
Second, research chicken breeds.
I was actually in the middle of doing just that when my husband called home from an errand run that took him into one of our local feed stores. It was March, and of course there were bins full of cheeping baby chicks of the usual assortments, and he made the mistake of telling me to come up and see them. I was actually surprised that he took such a huge leap when he had been reserved about the whole idea before that day. Suddenly he was on board in a big way. I can't tell you why. I still don't know.
So, trying to be logical and intelligent in the whole process, knowing another feed store, on the way to where my husband was, had baby chicks, too, I told him I would stop there first and see if they had a better price. You know, a little comparison shopping. As soon as I could hear the cheeping of those little fuzzy babies I was hooked. Yes, the price was better, but, I was determined to go to the other feed store before I made my final selections. I knew I wanted egg laying hens, no roosters. I knew a little about Leghorns, and Rhode Island Reds, and a few others, but, the breed I was eager about was the blue egg layers, the Ameracaunas. I thought I was educated enough to know what I was doing, and then I was faced with a new challenge when I arrived at the second feed store. Bins after bins of a much larger variety of breeds than I understood.
I figured I would just tell the sales person that I wanted egg layers, and they would make sure that is what I got. I trusted them. Relied on their "expertise" in the industry. Bad Idea!
We left the second feed store with what I thought were two Ameracauna hen chicks, one grey and one black and brown.
We named the grey one Hazel, and she was mine, all mine. You see, she "chose" me. Or so I thought. Whenever I put my finger up to the glass of the aquarium she was in, all the others ran away, but, not her. She would follow my finger and peck at it as if she knew me and wanted me to take her home. I spent many an hour sitting holding Hazel, bonding with her, and making her my pet. I told everyone that she was a blue egg layer and that even after she was old and didn't lay eggs anymore, we would still keep her because she was special. Oh she was special alright. She was a he.
The black and brown one we named Chief Running Fluff, or should I say my twenty-three year old daughter did. Her thinking was that the markings around her eyes looked like war paint, and that girls can be Chiefs, too. Chief was a hen, so, we were at a 50% accuracy rate for the "expertise" of the employees. I should actually be clearer. The employees really didn't do anything that helped us choose, and in hindsight, I don't think they really cared that much. It was more just "tell me which one you want and I'll grab it for you". No real guidance involved, plus, even in the most experienced hands the accuracy rate of chick sexing is only about 90% at best. It's mostly a crap shoot unless you get a breed called Sex Links, where the color of the chick is indicative of whether it is a hen or a rooster.
It's a time honored tradition for Moms to send care packages to their far away children. We've always done it. No matter where they are in the world we want them to feel our loving arms stretching out to comfort them. That's a tall order when your child is on the other side of the planet. Sure, we skype every week, and with email, text, and facetime, we stay in contact in ways that were not possible not too many years ago. We should be grateful that we have so many technological advances that we can utilize. Time was, the only way to connect with your far away child was to either make a very expensive long distance call, which necessitated short conversations, and a hurried feeling, or by writing letters that could take a week, sometimes more, to get there, and then you have to wait for a reply. It was a very frustrating process.
Right now we have a daughter in South Korea teaching English. This is her third international stint, after having spent several months in London on a study abroad, and a summer in Taiwan on an internship, she is now going to be living in Korea for up to 2 years, perhaps more if she decides she loves it.
We also have a daughter that is planning to head to South Korea to also teach English once she graduates college. This daughter also has been to Korea twice, once on a study abroad, and then for an internship/direct enrollment at Kyunghee University. Our son is also attempting to be accepted for a program in Japan to also teach English.
So, while long distance communication is still far from perfect, it will have to fill all the gaps for our children. When they are sick, or sad, or lonely, or frustrated, or just need a hug, it will have to be a cyber hug.
That doesn't account for packages, and when you look at most delivery services you wonder why anyone would even bother to send a package at all. The average price is almost two hundred dollars, some are over that. Thankfully, the US Post Office is more reasonable in it's pricing, at just under one hundred. Still, when she gets her care package, it will be well worth the cost just to know she is getting that little bit of home so far away.
The holiday routine has begun. Every year it's the same. In September I take down the summer wreath on the front door and replace it with the Halloween wreath. The front porch is swept and cleaned in preparation for the decorations to come. By October 1st the indoor Halloween decoration boxes are pulled out and at the very least my pretty witch is placed on the mantle in the dining room and the fiber optic witch sits on the fireplace in the living room. The front window decorations are taken off the sill and put away, replaced by my musical Halloween peanuts characters.
By mid October the skeletons and fake pumpkins are on the front porch. We've gotten at least a few real pumpkins that are set on the front steps waiting for carving.
Then in the last two weeks before Halloween the cemetery is set up, lights are put in various places, and the final decorations are put in their places. Right now I'm halfway thru October, so, still very busy.
With the weather turning brisk, and the nights getting longer, it's also time to start prepping the chickens for their first winter. This means the inside of the coop needs to finally be finished, and the outside protected from the elements enough for the girls to enjoy some time outside. Up to now our coop area has looked more like a shanty town, so, it's time to get it finished while the weather is still cooperating.
I'll put an update with pictures before and after in the next posting.
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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