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Archive for the ‘Chickens’ Category

The wait is finally over. We have baby ducks on the homestead! Yippee! Little Number Five did a great job! Bob calls them duckens. I call them lil’ Dickens 🙂

By our calculations they were due on Sunday but you know how that goes. Three of the ducks hatched on Saturday and one more hatched on Sunday. Good thing I sent hubby to the feed store for baby food.

We got 4 ducklings out of 7 eggs. Not to shabby considering we didn’t use an electric incubator.

Bob just stuck the camera inside the door and tried for a decent photo of them. Turned out pretty good, eh? This was when Number Five was still sitting on the last egg.

Baby Ducks With Mother Hen

Baby Ducks With Mother Hen

(Click image for larger view.)

They have been temporarily named Number 1, Number 2, Number 3, and Number 4 until we can figure out if they’re boys or girls.

I tried to include some video we took but YouTube was having issues or I was having issues with YouTube. Either way it didn’t work. I’ll try again soon because they are sooooo cute you’ll definitely want to see it.

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Hey y’all, just thought we’d let you know that Little Number Five is still alive and, more importantly, still sitting on that batch of duck eggs 🙂

With heat indexes in the mid to upper 90s, this chicken has to have real dedication to sit in that dog house all day (and night too, of course). You can’t see in it the photos but we laid a tarp over the wire pen so the dog house is in the shade most of the day. I’m sure that helps quite a bit but it’s still HOT!

She only comes out to get a drink and a bite to eat every 2 or 3 days. We’ve read that a chicken may lose up to 25 percent of her weight while she’s brooding so we’ve been feeding her up with some cracked corn. Number Five also gets the occasional treat from the garden. This morning it was a couple of strawberries.

chicken drinking from bowl
Ahhhh… I was soooo thirsty!

(click image for larger view)

 
Oops, looks like the photo opportunity is over. See? She’s STILL in a “fowl” mood.
broody speckled sussex hen ruffled feathers
Broody Chicken In A Fowl Mood

(click image for larger view)

We’re still counting the days. We’re very hopeful that she’ll stay broody and hatch us out some ducklings. We’ll keep you updated on the progress.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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One of the reasons we chose to raise Speckled Sussex chickens here on the homestead is because they still have the instinct to “go broody”. Broody means that the chicken will sit on a clutch of eggs and raise the chicks. Of course this means that the chicken stops laying eggs!

Broodiness has been bred out of most of the modern breeds . Commercial egg producers don’t want a chicken to go broody because that means the hen won’t be laying eggs to sell. For example, a breed of chicken that most people are familiar with — the Rhode Island Red — is a great layer but almost never goes broody.

Some folks buy fertilized eggs and use an electric incubator to hatch them. A few people use a mother hen to incubate eggs. Because we live off the grid we don’t have access to the amount of electricity necessary to use the electric incubator method.

We want more ducks. We really REALLY enjoy eating the duck eggs. They’re larger than chicken eggs and have a richer flavor. Also, in our opinion, the ducks are easier to handle than chickens. We have Khaki Campbells and Indian Runners ducks and a Khaki Campbell drake. Both of these breeds are known as great layers. Our Khaki Campbell duck, Princess, consistently laid an egg every day last winter something that we didn’t get from the chickens. Only one big problem…. Khaki Campbells and Indian Runners seldom go broody.

So what does this have to do with a broody chicken? Well… a broody chicken will incubate just about any egg you place under them.

We’ve been hoping that one of the chickens would go broody. In fact we’ve been trying to coax them into it by replacing their freshly laid eggs with a golf ball so they would think, “Hey! Maybe I should sit on these nice round eggs!” After about a week and one of them finally did!

We realized that we hadn’t seen Little Number Five (the name came from the movie Broken Trail) all morning. When Bob went to check on her there she was sitting on that clutch of golf balls. Success! Broody Chicken!

Now for the master plan — replace the golf balls with fertile duck eggs! The tricky part was to get her moved to a location that would separate her from the other chicken without breaking her instinct to brood.

We gave Number 5 most of the day to settle into setting on her clutch of fake eggs. Then, after it got dark we moved her and substituted seven duck eggs for the golf balls.

Another tricky part of this situation is that chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch while duck eggs take 28 days to hatch and sometimes between 21 and 28 days the chicken’s instinct says, “These dern eggs ain’ta gonna hatch,” and stops sitting on them. If this is successful, we’ll have a chicken who will be the mother of baby ducklings. The due date is June 27th. Mark your calendars!

After discussing it a while, we decided to move the chicken to Blaze’s dog house and let her use it to incubate. Don’t worry… we have a good secure door we put on it at night to keep her safe. Don’t feel bad about Blaze because she doesn’t use the house at all… she’s a tipi dog!

As you can see, Number 5 has a good supply of feed and water but so far she’s taking her duck egg incubation responsibilities very seriously so we haven’t seen much of her lately.

Broody chicken house and pen

Speckled Sussex Hen

Speckled Sussex Hen

She’s certainly acting broody… as hubby says, “She’s in a FOWL mood!”

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We knew that our ducks should begin laying eggs anywhere from 5 to 7 months old. Since we were told that they were born in April (not sure which day) we knew we should be getting some eggs any day now. Bop fixed up a nesting box in their new house , filled it with straw, and placed a round white rock and golf ball in it to — hopefully — give the gals the idea that it was time to start laying some eggs!

After days and days of checking the nesting box — an EMPTY nesting box — it finally happened! Today there was an egg! YEAH!

Khaki Campbell duck egg
(Click image for larger view.) 

Bob read that duck eggs can become tough when you fry them so he’s been practicing how to steam fry eggs (a method that was recommended in the book) using the store bought eggs.  So… for breakfast this morning he cooked up some bacon and regular eggs and then he added a pat of butter to the cast iron dutch oven, cracked the duck egg into the pan, added a small amount of water, put the dutch oven lid on, and turned off the heat. 

See? A perfect sunny side up egg!

We shared the egg and it was delicious! So much more flavor than the store eggs. The only problem was that there was only ONE!

Duck egg in cast iron dutch oven.
(Click image for larger view.)

Bob said the shell was 10 times tougher than the store eggs which crack if you breathe hard on them 😉 The yolk was so much darker and the white didn’t run all over the bottom of the pan.

I know one egg doesn’t seem like a lot but when we get to the point where we don’t have to purchase them from the grocery store it will be one more step towards self-sufficiency on the homestead. AND, more importantly, we’ll know that the duck/chicken eggs are hormone free and that they are being raised humanely.

I can’t wait to see if there are any more eggs tomorrow. We have 3 female ducks and we’ve read that once they start laying they should lay an egg for every 14 hours (approximately) of daylight they get.  Fortunately, ducks usually lay their eggs early morning — just in time for breakfast 😉 — so it’s not difficult to collect them when you let them out for the day to free range. And in case you’re wondering, we anticipate that our chickens should start laying sometime in January.

If any of you readers knows anything different about how many eggs we could expect – post a comment and let us know!

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Chicken On The Run

Here’s a photo of one of our Speckled Sussex chicks “on the run”. We pretty much let them free range whenever we can and they LOVE it. They are constantly foraging. Chickens are omnivores which means they eat plants and meat. Most folks know they eat lots of bugs but, believe it or not, these two month old chicks are great at catching baby snakes and eating them. We’ve counted 4 that they’ve eaten so far that we know about. All of the snakes have been Speckled King Snakes – which are actually good snakes – but oh well – maybe they’ll get some of the copperheads too!

speckled-sussex-chicken-on-the-run
(Click image for larger view.)

This chick is one of our favorites. He was one of the sicker ones and we didn’t think he would make it. We think he’s a rooster because of the big comb and wattles but he doesn’t have any tail feathers – probably because of being sick. He’s doing great now and is one of the better foragers. If he feathers out well at the next molt he just may be the rooster we decide to keep.

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I thought you all would be interested in reading more about the chicken tractor that Bob built for our small — but healthy 😉 — flock. He used a plan we purchased from Catawba ConvertiCoops. I think the plan was originally intended to make an attractive chicken coop/house for urban poultry farmers but we thought it would work well for the homestead too. If you’re thinking about raising some chickens of your own this is definitely a housing option you should take a look at.

As you can see, this lower part of the tractor is a wire pen and the upper part — which the chickens access by walking up the ramp — provides a roosting bar, 2 nesting boxes, and predator proof housing.

Chicken Tractor Side View
(Click image for larger view.)

Each end has 2 doors. The larger door on the bottom lets us feed and water the chickens or to let them in and out of the tractor. The smaller top door opens up to each of the nesting boxes built into the tractor. The side panels — one on each side — lift off completely which makes it very easy to clean out the coop! The handles that extend from each end allows us to move the tractor from one spot to another. 

Chicken Tractor View 2
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Chicken Tractor View 3
(Roosting bar and nesting box. Click image for larger view.)

One of the reasons we really liked this plan is because the bottom opening is 4′ by 8′ which is the same size as our garden beds. This makes it REALLY convenient to take the “tractor” into the garden and let the birds eat bugs, till the dirt, and do what chickens to best – poop — directly where we need it most.  We plan to use the tractor on each of the fallow beds this winter on a rotating basis. Hopefully this will help improve our soil for next Spring’s crops. When we’re not using it in the garden it can be easily moved to other areas of the homestead that need fertilizing, like the orchard and pasture areas.

This is a pretty cool plan and works great for a small flock of chickens. Before we lost most of our chickens we also had plans for building larger coop and would house more birds but for now we think the tractor will see us through the winter. We’re really hoping that since we selected a breed of chickens — Speckled Sussex — that will still go broody that we’ll get to rebuild the flock without having to purchase more chicks. But if they don’t than that’s what we’ll have to do. Something we’re putting on the back burner for now.

The “chickerdoos” — as I like to call them — really like it when they get moved to a new spot with fresh grass but most of the time they’re not even in it because they’re out doing that “free range” thing! Speaking of free ranging chickens…. these guys really love to move about the homestead. It’s amazing how quickly they can get from one spot to another. One minute they’re next to the garden and the next they’re in the woods. Don’t worry… we’re keeping a close eye on them. We sure can’t afford for any of them to get lost.

Free range chickens on Hickory Hollow Homestead.
Our small – but healthy! – flock free ranging and happy!
(Click image for larger view.)

When they are out of the pen we need to keep the doors closed or the ducks will try to go and eat out of the chicken feeder. We’ve discovered that about late afternoon/early evening the chickens will willingly go into the tractor, eat a bit of feed, and then when it starts to get dark they trot themselves up the ramp to roost for the night.

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One of the reasons we decided to blog about our modern day homesteading experiences was to share our successes with our readers but, like everyone else, we seem to learn more from our failures. This certainly holds true when it comes to raising chickens.

Our Speckled Sussex chicken flock, population 26, was flourishing — all of them growing daily, feathering out well, and seemingly very healthy. We were keeping them housed in a round wire pen measuring approximately 3 feet tall by 3 feet in diameter and, in fact, we had to split the flock into 2 pens because they had grown so much.

Temporary Wire Chicken Pen
(Click image for larger view.)

Then it happened! Coccidiosis! Coccidiosis is a protozoal infection that chickens can get. This most commonly affects “penned” poultry. The protozoa live in the chickens’ intestines and the symptoms include bloody diarrhea, weight loss due to a dramatic decrease in appetite, and sometimes — as in our situation — death.

Bob had noticed a few of the chicks had extra runny stools and then noticed that their feed consumption had dropped of dramatically. Then it seemed that quite of few of them were just laying down and were very lethargic. All of these are symptoms of the disease and a quick review of our resource books confirmed it.

It’s not that we were complete dummies about chickens. We knew about the disease. In fact, when we first got our chicks we inquired about a medicated feed at the produce store in town but they didn’t carry any. The owner said that it didn’t seem to be a big problem with it here in this area. Actually, one of the ways you can immunize your birds is to allow a mild outbreak of coccidiosis.

They looked fine in the morning but by early afternoon two of them were dead 😦 The alarms finally started going off. Now we were seeing bloody stools. Yuck!

Of course things like this always happen at the eleventh hour. It was 4:40PM and the feed store closes at 5:00PM so it was a mad dash into town to get something to give the chicks in hopes of saving as many as we could.

We used something called Corid. A liquid medicine that you put into their water. Unfortunately by this time most of them had stopped drinking. Now we needed to pick up each individual chick, use a pipette to draw up some of the medicated water, hole their beak open and slowly drop it down their throat. We repeated this process every 2 hours that first night.

While we were handling the chicks we took the opportunity to separate them into two groups. Ones that we were sure were pretty sick and ones we thought were slightly more healthy.

We had more dead chicks in the pens the next morning which had to be dealt with and then we continued to dose them with the medicated water. The really sick chicks were having difficulty just swallowing the water. After more of them died that day we finally took the pipette (eyedropper) and gave the sickest chicks a drop of undiluted Corid.

This seemed to help quite a bit so we moved all of the surviving chicks into their new home. (Read more about the fancy chicken tractor in tomorrow’s post.) We weren’t sure if we wanted them to “contaminate” the upstairs just yet so we kept them confined in the lower part. We put a cardboard box in there for them to huddle up into for sleeping but, with the way our luck was running, that night the weather got a little cooler than we expected and more of them died that next day. Not sure if it was that we had cold shocked them or if they were destined to die from the disease.

Chicken Tractor
(Click image for larger view.)

Long story short…. we lost 21 out of 26 including King George (Bob’s favorite). It was a hard lesson to learn and one we won’t forget any time soon and we don’t have anyone to blame but ourselves. The number one thing we did wrong was not moving the pens to a “clean” more often. We were putting fresh litter/bedding into the pens every day. We thought that since the chicks were scratching most of the litter/bedding outside of their pens then they were also scratching out the poop along with it. The second thing we did wrong was not catching it sooner. That won’t happen again!

The 5 remaining chicks are well — at least for today 😉 Out of the survivors we THINK there are 2 roosters and 3 hens. Hopefully — if we can hang in there and keep them healthy (and alive!) until next Spring then MAYBE they’ll get with the program and produce some new chicks next Spring.

We’ll keep you updated on the progress!

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