Monday, January 28, 2013

Life of a Backyard Chicken Farmer

Most people think we're a little nuts with the animals we've slowly added over the last 5+ years as a married couple.  Here's a recap for those who don't know: 3 dogs, 2 horses, 1 fish, 1 cat, and 6 chickens.  And we've housed and cared for others as well, they just aren't in the current tally for various reasons.  The chickens are probably among the quirkiest, yet easiest, animals we've had to care for over the years.

Now, don't get me wrong, plenty of effort went/goes into their care.  Kevin purchased a coop and built an awesome run for them prior to picking them up from "the crazy chicken lady" (seriously, imagine the crazy cat lady and then replace the cats with chickens).  He is about 90% finished with a second mobile coop as well -- built that from scratch with mostly extra materials at home.  And day to day, we have to make sure their have plenty of food and water, clean the coop as needed, let them out of the coop run in the morning to free range, and then close it up at night to keep them safe from the critters.  So, when it comes to day to day maintenance, they're really pretty easy.

Remember when I said quirky?  That's where having a backyard flock gets interesting.  Chickens are weirdos.  Here are a few of the more interesting experiences we've had so far...

1.  Right now, we have one particular hen (a lovely little black australorp) who has gone "broody" -- which means she is desperately trying to hatch an egg.  Normally, I'd just let her, especially because we do have a rooster and having little chicks would be pretty cool (much cooler than just buying some from Tractor Supply this Spring).  Problem is that our brilliant little bird is trying to hatch golf balls.  At first, she'd go sit on the other hens' eggs.  But they all lay in different nesting boxes, so she ended up being overwhelmed and just stuck to a couple nesting boxes.  She had stayed in the same spot for a couple days, so I checked under her to see if she actually had an egg under there...Nope. Just a nice warm Nike golf ball.  So, now I get to try and break the broodiness by pulling her off the nest and setting her outside.  If she snaps out of it, she should start laying again.  Though, if she ends up sitting on an ACTUAL EGG, I'll probably let her stick with it to see if she is successful.  I'll keep you all posted.

2.  Responsible pet owners know that their animals need to be de-wormed on a regular basis (or put on a preventative) to prevent a nasty infestation.  Well, same goes for chickens.  I just did the first round of worming our flock has experienced. An initial dose of wormer, wait 10 days, then a second dose.  The real bummer is that you have to wait 14 days after each dose until you can eat the eggs again.  Giving the birds the medicine is the tricky part.  The first stuff I used just went in their water and they drank it up, no big deal.  The second dose was different, I had to give them 1/2 cc orally.  The broody hen was the easiest, she had her mouth open, squawking at me and I was able to squirt the medicine in her mouth with one of Riley's old Advil droppers.  One other chicken let me hold her while I gave her the meds, but the rest had to be dosed by saturating a piece of bread with the medicine and then getting the chicken to eat the bread.  Hardest part of that process was distracting the other birds so the target bird could eat his medicated piece.  Not exactly as easy as dropping a meat flavored Heartgard chunk into their food bowl...

3.  Only one of the chickens has a name -- that's our rooster (JJ).  Another now has a nickname: The Egg Bomber.  She lays her eggs first thing in the morning (way before the sun comes up), which is odd.  Her clock is a bit off because of the winter and even though the lamp on the coop is on a timer, she still struggles in the morning.  So, either out of laziness or confusion, she doesn't go into a cozy nesting box to lay her egg. Instead, she drops her egg where she stands...on the highest roosting bar in the coop...crack....splat...And she lays the most beautiful huge brown eggs too.  It has been such a bummer to go out there and see her egg destroyed on the floor of the coop.  I was really afraid it would encourage egg eating in the chickens too, because they'd been able to taste the yolk (sounds gross, but they think it's super yummy).  So, I instituted a chicken training program.  I used some of the extra hardware cloth and stapled it over the front of one of the nesting boxes.  At night, I'd grab the hen off the roost and put her into the enclosed box.  After doing that for a few nights in a row, she got back into the habit of coming off the roost to lay in a nest.  I'm glad it ended up being that easy to retrain her.  I've only had to repeat the training once so far -- and I think she was just being a pansy and was too cold to get off the roost to lay.

I'm sure a lot of you just yawned, but I have found raising these chickens to be pretty enlightening and rewarding.  I would recommend having a backyard chicken flock to anyone interested.  It really is super easy.  You can go away for a weekend and not have to kennel them or anything :-)  Plus, you can bribe neighbors with eggs if you need to go away for longer than a few days.

We have also recently lost a member of the flock.  She is the hen who prompted the worming, but I think she was too sick to make it through treatment.  I made a hospital coop for her and she had a nice space heater blowing on her, and after rallying a few days into treatment, she took a big turn for the worse and passed away while I talked softly to her.  It was really sad.  I felt like I let her down.  We will be better backyard chicken farmers because of her, more aware, and better educated.  But I'll sure miss her.  She was lovely and gave us an abundance of beautiful blue/green eggs.  Rest in peace, little chicky.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Our Next Big Adventure

These days we find ourselves maintaining a routine to maintain our sanity -- in Riley's and my case anyway.  We are continuing to count the days until Kevin/Dada gets home (mid-February cannot come fast enough) and trying to keep busy with play dates and family time.  We've been able to manage our little farm pretty well, even with the dreaded "Blizzard of 2012."  Riley received a wonderful sled for Christmas (just in time for the snow), so I can pull him on it out to the barn with me in the mornings.  Riley loves it and I love not having to wrestle a stroller through the snow, drive the truck all 100 yards out to the barn, or carry him around the whole time (imagine carrying a really awkwardly shaped kettlebell around while you do chores).  Really the only things that are especially tough about the cold weather/snow are the horses feet getting caked with ice by the end of the day and their stupid water trough freezing into ridiculously huge slabs of ice. 

Oddly enough, while we are eager for time to pass, we are also savoring every second of this time in our lives.  Our next big family adventure is right around the corner, and I suspect it is going to turn our world upside down.  It will be a time when routines will be revised and revised and revised...and probably thrown out the window on occasion.  But we wouldn't have it any other way.

We are thrilled to announce that our family will be expanding around the end of July.  We are cautiously optimistic that the pregnancy will go well and that we will meet our little one shortly AFTER my dear friend Tasha's wedding on 27 July.  She has asked me to be a bridesmaid, so of course I went and got pregnant with a due date 4 days after her nuptials.  Best bridesmaid EVER.  Seriously though, we are excited, nervous, and filled with so much love we could burst.  We cannot wait to see Riley as a big brother.  He is such a good little helper right now, we're hoping that continues when we bring a newborn home to stay.  I have no doubt that he will have his moments, but I think his little sibling is going to absolutely ADORE him.

We will keep you all updated on our progress throughout the pregnancy.  In the meantime, take a listen to Gilles Nugget #2:


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Play dates!

Riley and I have ventured outside of our comfort zones in the past few weeks.  We needed an excuse to get out of our pajamas out of the house and socialize with other Mommas and their kiddos.  So, I got on and found a pretty awesome playgroup with a bunch of women from all over my county.  I was certain most everything would be closer to Indy, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a group geared toward folks in the suburbs West of Indy.

Other than having my good friend Emily and her son Quinn over to our house for playtime, we have only been to one play date.  It was held at a library that has a fantastic children's area.  I'm talking not just books, but tables with train sets, shopping carts, little tables and chairs, lots of stuff to climb on/in/around, and more.  It was great.  Riley spent the first 5 minutes laying face down on the ground anytime someone got close or looked at him...and then he pooped his pants (nice first impression, fella).  But after he got ALL of that out of his system, it was game on.  He did a great job.  Didn't really play WITH any of the other kids, but didn't attack any of them either.  And he was very stealthy when he stole someone else's toy -- he totally waited until they were distracted and swooped in, avoiding ALL drama.  I was proud.

We will go to another one of these group play dates on the 14th, but in the meantime we have another play date with a mom/son duo we met at the library.  Her son is just a month younger than Riley and might be just as crazy!  He was climbing on the book shelves at the library.  I think he and Riley will be best friends forever. 

Yay for not being social outcasts anymore!