Monday, August 26, 2013

Great Expectations

For me the biggest lesson that The Ladies have brought me is patience with waiting to see how the unknowns turn out.  Yup - I guess I like to be in control.  I had in my head a flock of different breeds.  So I controlled that.  I carefully selected our breeds to all look different while still being cold hardy, friendly and good egg layers.  That's about all I've been able to control.

Here's where it gets more complicated.  I know we can't have a rooster in our neighborhood, so I ordered only pullets (less than 1 year old hens).  But there is only a 90 % guarantee on gender of your chicks.  They have small "parts" you know!  So as time has gone by I find myself always analyzing them.  Is this one going to be a rooster?   What about that one?  I've laughingly done all these old wives tale tricks to "check."  All the tricks said 4 are girls and 1 is bisexual!  But ultimately I don't have control of that one.  If Ebony (or Jiji, or Luna, or Bella, or Hedwig) is a rooster, then that's the way it is.  The tough part is we won't know for many more weeks.  Waiting....  Meanwhile I remind myself - what will be will be.

And then there is the whole survival thing.  The original three Ladies (Emma calls them "The Big Three) are three weeks old today. 

The newer two will be three weeks old in two days.  As we pass each week, I feel more comfortable that we are getting closer to being out of the woods.  But again, other than taking good care of them, there really isn't anything I can do to control whether we lose any more chicks.  That's probably the hardest to remind myself - what will be will be.

Every once in a while I get a funny reminder that I am not the one in charge here.  From day one, we "knew" Luna was the Buff Orpington and that little Rosey, who died, was a Gold Sex Link (also known as a Cinnamon Queen).  This week Luna surprised us all with sprouting the dark russet feathers you can see in the picture.  Turns out she is the Gold Sex Link and Rosey was the Buff Orpington!   We all got a good laugh out of that.  Emma insisted that we tell Luna about our mistake and was relieved that Luna was not upset by this news.  (On a side note - because Luna is the Gold Sex Link, she is also the only one we are 100% sure is a pullet).

The most enjoyable great expectation is managing my curiosity and excitement over knowing what our two younger chicks (Hedwig and Bella the English Orpingtons) will look like.  We know in general but there is a lot of variation that is possible in the coloring.  And just like the hen or rooster question - there is nothing to do but wait.

I've never been good at waiting.  Maybe The Ladies will help me with that!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Why Chickens???

Ok.  So I admit it.  We got The Ladies because I thought it would be fun (it is!).  That's not to say it was not well thought out.  But the primary reason was that taking care of our friends chickens while they were on vacation was FUN!  And easy.  And eventually they contribute to the household by giving us eggs.  I love my cat and dog but they don't give me eggs!  Little did I know there are so many better reasons to support us having chickens. 

Right from the start this has been a family project.  Now that I think about it, I'm not sure we have every really had a family project.  I highly recommend it.  We started with actually sitting down and writing a list of pros and cons of having chickens.  A very good lesson for the girls.  Then came the writing the budget which included a trip to Tractor Supply to actually price the food, shavings, feeders, waterers, etc.  Good lesson number 2 for the girls.  Then came the planning of coop modifications and the selecting of cold hardy, friendly, good laying breeds of chickens.  For two kids who are not really planners but "jump up and doers" this was another great exercise.  We've had lots of talk about why we need to plan and learn.  And this was all before The Ladies even hatched!  There were other lessons - how to come to agreement about names even if you have to give up your favorite name, how to measure twice and cut once when building, how to brush with the grain of the wood when painting,  what foods are ok to give chickens, how warm new baby chicks need to be....  And so much more.  In addition to fun this has been all about LEARNING!  Not bad for a summer!

And then The Ladies arrived.  And we were all immediately smitten.  But also new lessons came at us fast.  Right away I was struck by the fragility of these tiny things and reminded of our immense responsibility to care for the creatures we take into our lives.  We had some tough talks at home at first about how careful we needed to be with the chicks and how they can't just eat whatever you want to give them.  I'm not sure but I think the girls learned some about that we are ultimately responsible for The Ladies' lives.  They are just chicks but it was a good reminder of the awesome responsibility we humans hold in this world.  The loss of little Rosey was a sad emphasis of that lesson. 

And chores - that has been a timely lesson for Emma and Meghan.  And somehow I get less flack about getting them to help out.  Not just the "Chickie Chores" as we call, them but there is definitely more helping around the house.  Who knew that would happen - but I won't complain!

Singularly the biggest joy that has come from having The Ladies is the new family time we are enjoying.  There is less tv being watched!   And more conversations being held.  Sometimes about chickens and sometimes just regular old conversations.  It's amazing what topics come up when you sit watching chicks.  And there is so much more laughter in our house!  Again sometimes about the antics of the chicks, sometimes, good natured ribbing of how Mom has turned into a "Crazy Chicken Lady" and sometimes just other random things.

If these faces don't say it all.....


Even if The Ladies never lay eggs for us - they have already repaid us ten times over.

The Chicken Chick

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Chick Football and other Chicken Games

Our little Ladies are growing and constantly reminding us of some important lessons - patience, determination, and laughter.

Today laughter was the big lesson of the day.  Who knew chicks could be so funny?!  We are all enjoying watching the games they play.  My favorite is Chick Football.  This game can be played with a blueberry, a small piece of tomato, or even a small pine shaving.  The Ladies seem to prefer the tomato as the prop for this game.   This is a high speed game that could be announced by an accomplished sportscaster.  It all begins when we put a small dish of pieces of tomato down and call them "Chook, chook, chook."  They all run over.  Inevitably Jiji plays quarterback and grabs the "ball" and makes a run for the endzone.  She zooms all over the brooder as fast as she can, peeping all the while.  I think she may be trash talking the other birds.  The other four simply ignore the remaining pieces and play the position of defenders.  There are plenty of tomatoes for everyone but as any toddler knows - the only toy worth having is the one that your playmate has!  There is much fumbling and intercepting and complicated blockade plays.  The ball changes beaks many times.  Occasionally Luna will  conduct an aerial attack which I think the NFL would call a penalty on.  It doesn't seem to matter how big player you are.  Sometimes the little ones like Bella and Heddy have the benefit of squeezing through the blockade.  The quarter is over when someone swallows the  ball.... uh the tomato.  The next quarter begins when the next quarterback finds another "ball."  At times more than one ball is in play on the field and chaos ensues.  As soon as all the tomatoes are gone it's time for some water and a nap.

Jiji the Quarterback

Another fun game is "Angry Birds."  You all know what that is right?  Well it's not that different in the brooder.  One chick sits on the perch minding their own business - perhaps even sleeping.  While another bird...or two...or four streak through the brooder, catch some air and knock the dozing chick off the perch.  We think there is a "King of the Hill" element also as whoever knocks the chick off - usually hops up on the perch at least until they too are knocked off.

Just a reminder to us all to stop every once in a while and play some crazy game and have so much fun that you need to take a nap!

The Chicken Chick

Gotta LOVE it when a plan comes together

There's nothing quite so satisfying as when you work on a project and it comes out the way you've imagined.  I have had the image of the coop in my head for a while now and it came out "just right."  It's now painted and thanks to help from Scott and my Dad it is moved into position on the blocks.  I'm loving the barn red paint and white trim - even though I had to convince Scott and the girls it was the way to go.  Now all that is left is to put up the fencing for the run and finish getting the right latches to keep the Ladies safe from predators while in the coop.

I'm thinking the fencing is going to be the hardest part as we have to dig down about 1 foot to bury the fence.  Sounds like hard labor to me!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Power of a Chick

No I am not talking about their early flight skills.  But today I saw two very clear examples of the power these tiny little things have.

First - this morning, my normally never still, Meghan, sat quietly (seriously not talking!) and just watched the chicks for what must have been an hour.  This may not seem amazing to you but Meghan is like the energizer bunny.  She is rarely still and if she is relatively still, she is humming, singing, or talking.  For an hour this morning she sat absolutely quietly watching The Ladies sleep.  Anytime I went out to check on her (thinking she can't possibly still be sitting there), she hushed me so as not to wake them.  Wow!   Rock on little flock!

Second - and this one nearly moved me to tears.  One of our elderly neighbors who is going through a tough time putting her husband in a nursing home, came over to meet the chicks.  They had both been very excited to hear we were getting chickens and even happier that The Ladies would be on the side of the house facing them - so they could enjoy them too.  Well, her husband is now in a nursing home, but as soon as I called over the fence to her, she was on her way over.  She oohed and ahhed over the chicks and told me some stories about her growing up on a farm and having chickens.  Then she talked to me about her husband.  And finally she asked if when she was having a bad day whether it would be ok if she came over to just sit with the chickens.  And promptly claimed one as her "favorite."  I think it healed her heart a little for today.

These little Ladies don't know what they're doing but they bring peace and smiles when you watch them.  Our garage (where their brooder pen is) is not a glamourous place to hang out, but I have already hand some really nice conversations with both my girls as we just sit and watch the Ladies.

A little update on our flock.  After little Rosey died I got pretty nervous.  I want at least a flock of 3 as these are flock creatures and need companionship.  But after Rosey died we were down to three and not out of the woods in terms of finding out whether we have any roosters.  So Crazy Chicken Lady that I am, we got two more chicks.  I am now completely converted and have decided having chicks shipped is just too much stress for them.  So we found a man in Northeastern CT who raises and shows English Orpingtons.  They are similar to our little Luna but with poofier feathers and poofier bottoms that look like they are wearing pantaloons.  So we've added two to our flock, Hedwig and Bella.

Hedwig (AKA Heddy)
She is a Splash Orpington.  She will be white with splashes of color (either black or dark blue).  Her name of course is a bow to Harry Potter but also to one of Scott's and my favorite shows NCIS Los Angeles.  
She is also an English Orpington and will be black, dark blue or a combination of both.  The prediction is black up top with blue pantaloons.  At the moment she looks VERY similar to Ebony but we are learning to tell them apart.
So now we are 5.

The Chicken Chick

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sad Day in the Brooder Pen

Today we lost little Rosey.  She stopped eating and drinking last night and went down hill fast.  She made it through the night but wasn't looking good.  I tried for a while to get her to rally by giving her water from a dropper.  But by mid afternoon I realized I was just delaying the inevitable and decide to just let her be.  She died soon after.

Meg is one sad little girl.  Rosey has been her favorite since even before she arrived.  I think partly because she was the one we KNEW was a girl (she was a golden sex linked chick which means that girl chicks are one color and boys are another - making sexing a piece of cake!).  I think Meg decided that lowered the risk of getting attached and then having to give a pet away because it turns out to be a rooster. Smart girl.  I so wish that planning worked for her!  We of course had prepared the girls for the possible loss of chicks but preparation is one thing...

So the lesson from the coop for today is- no matter how prepared you are for the death of any creature, it still hurts.  It is a good reminder how fragile life is, particularly for the tiniest of us.  And as a parent it is a reminder to me to tackle the hard stuff with my kids when they ask.  Meg wanted to hear about how Rosey died, what I did for her, why I thought it happened, and so many more things.  She then wanted to see little Rosey one more time.  I had throught she might , so I had but her carefully in a little PartyLite candle box which fit her just perfectly.  Not that any of those things have made the sadness go away for Meg but I guess it's another life lesson.

I expect "The Ladies minus One" will have lots of lessons for us.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Welcome to the Flock!

Tonight completes my first full day as a "Mother Hen."  The Ladies arrived yesterday at about noon.  Thanks to incredible service from the USPS they arrived not even 24 hours after leaving Meyers Hatchery in Ohio.  And again thanks to incredible service from the USPS - they were delivered straight to me at the house.  I didn't even have to go get them!  Thanks Mr. Postman!

So Mr. Postman hands me the box which was actually peeping!  I went straight into the garage where our brooder was all set up and ready.  Opened the box and there were 4 alert adorable Ladies.

I was actually really surprised that they were so active right away.  In they went into the brooder.  As I put each one in I carefully dipped their beaks in the water as instructed (so they know where the water is I guess).  The two yellow chicks started eating and drinking right away.  The little black ones were a little sleepier but found the food pretty quickly!  In no time Luna (the yellow with the chipmunk stripe) was sprinting around the pen.
They sleep a lot!   And fall asleep at the funniest times.  One fell asleep while she was rooting around in the shavings.  So she was asleep standing on her head - looked like a tripod.  Another fell asleep mid leg stretch.  And another fell asleep in the food.  It's a good thing I knew to put marbles in the waterer otherwise one would have fallen asleep there and drown I'm sure!
I spent the day popping in and out of the garage checking on them, handling them some, and getting to know which was which.  After I got them settled I came inside and compared them to the catalog pictures.  They don't look at all like their adult versions.  So here are the introductions
Rosey (the Golden Buff AKA Golden Sex Link)

Rosey is the bossy one!  She's always pushing the others out of the way.  And she's LOUD!   When she's not happy she's quite the peeper!  And she nosy!   If one chick finds something, Rosey has to be right there.  She is not going to be left out!  Interestingly when I took each chick outside to play in the grass - she is not as confident out there.  She's Meg's favorite!
JiJi (the Barred Rock)

JiJi is mellow!  She sleeps a lot!  And she looks a little older than the other chicks because you can actually see some little wing feathers.  She isn't older - they were all hatched on Monday.  But apparently she is a breed that matures much faster than the others.  She will likely be our first egg layer!  She likes to sit in your hand and is not particularly anxious to get off when you try to put her back in the brooder.  Even out in the grass she was mellow.  Curious but calmly exploring.  Jiji is Emma's favorite!
Luna (the Buff Orpington)

Not that you can tell from this picture but Luna is a wild woman.  She is always the first to start the chick races around the brooder and she actually gets a little air and bounces off the other chicks heads!  Scott has already nicknamed named her "Luna the Lunatic."  She's tough to catch but when you do she seem pretty happy to be cuddled.  But like Rosey - out in the grass - she is a bit more intimidated.  Luna just might be Scott's favorite.
Ebony (the Black Australorp)
Ebony is the shiest of the chicks but today I found a different side to her.  She is the adventurous one.  She is the one who loved being in the grass.  She had her head stretched up and was checking everything out and was definitely exploring more.  She also loves to climb.  While I was sitting in the grass with her - I lifted her onto my leg and in no time flat she was on my shoulder!  I also love that her coloring makes her look like an Emperor Penguin chick.  At least for now.  Soon she will be all black!  I think she's my favorite so far.  But yesterday it was Jiji so....
The girls (Emma and Meghan) not to be confused with The Ladies were at camp when the chicks arrived.  But that was actually good.  It allowed the chicks to settle in a little bit before being enthusiastically welcomed!


So that's the flock.  I was surprised that their personalities are so evident already.  I wonder if they'll change.  Now we're just hoping that we manage to help them all survive and that they are really all girls!!!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Travel Day for "The Ladies"

I received notification that the four little chicks have shipped from the hatchery.  They are on their way!  It is very strange to think of these little critters making their way to Massachusetts from Ohio in a USPS Priority Express box.  I have put a call into the local post office and they have promised to call me as soon as the chicks arrive.  I imagine they are quite anxious to hand over packages like this!

The Brooding Pen is all set and just waiting for The Ladies (aka The Babies).  Today's big decision was whether to stick with our original plan to use unmedicated chick starter feed.  After consulting with all our "Chicken Friends", we decided to do a halfway measure.  Instead of doing medicated feed for the whole first 10 weeks we'll do medicated for the first week or two and then switch to unmedicated feed.  It seemed like a good idea given that they are so fragile to begin with.

I managed to master the heat lamp today.  And another "Chicken Friend" advised me on how many marbles to put in the water tray to keep the Babies from drowning.  Apparently chicks are like human babies and are prone to falling asleep in their food and water!   Emma thought that was strange until I showed her a picture of her having done a face plant into her spaghetti when she was tiny.  It seems like babies of all kinds have a lot of similarities!

And the coop took one step closer to being ready.  Thankfully the Ladies won't be ready for the coop for a while so we're not as rushed on that as we might be.  It was a beautiful day though so I got one coat of paint on the coop.  It needs another and then the trim done.  I always wanted to live on a farm!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Coop Progress

Progress on the coop!
After cleaning but before any changes

Another before changes view

Nesting Box (2 nests) added

Primed and ready for paint
Chick Pen ready for brooding.  Just needing shavings.  And the Chicks!!!

The Journey Begins

This week my husband and our two daughters will join the ranks of raisers of Backyard Chickens.  I find it slightly bizarre how excited I am about this prospect.  It may be that I was needing a new adventure to get excited about.  But I am enjoying every minute of the preparations.   And who can deny the attraction of a few day old chick?

We've inherited an old coop from some friends.  It's basically a large dog house that they modified  And we've furthered the modifications by adding a nesting box wing.  It's primed and ready to be painted.  A piece of what I am enjoying about this is the challenge of doing this with spending as little money as possible.  With the inheriting of the old coop and using scraps of things we have around the house and one trip to The Habitat for Humanity Re-Store for a few other pieces we will have our coop ready for "The Ladies" and have spent only $20!   I love the feel of that!  And it sure doesn't hurt to see the girls (that would be my daughters) excited and ready to help and learn.  It's been a great family project and The Ladies aren't even here yet.

Of course The Ladies (really The Babies at this point) won't be quite ready for the coop.  They ship tomorrow from the hatchery.  We should have them sometimes between Tuesday and Thursday!   And until they are coop ready they will be in a pen that we put together for brooding.  Again we were able to recycle and reuse!  The Babies will be in the same pen that my daughters played in.  Although they will have the benefit of a heat lamp and other accessories.

Now if I can only figure out how high to keep the lamp to get the brooding pen to hold at the right temperature.