All About That Compost

In my last post I talked about starting our composting pile. The husband wasn’t too fond of the idea. For various reasons, mainly he felt it would smell, it would get everywhere if not properly confined, it would look trashy, it would take too long, too much work, excuses went on.

Well finally convenience him to start one. We started simple. We had to very old and almost broken down pallets that were laying around that we tied together to form somewhat of confinement area. We put the chickens old brooder bedding in there and mixed some fresh grass clippings and leaves into it. The husband got really into putting stuff in it. We started a kitchen compost bucket too. Put coffee ground, egg shells, banana peels, and any other type of organic matter that the chickens can’t eat into it.

So far it has been about 3 weeks and it is looking nice! We had to even start another pile. Which the husband got some more pallets from work to start a second bin. The first week and up to the second week the pile was heating up nicely. You would dig down to the center and it would steam. We did a full turn on it when we moved it to the new bin so we could start the second pile. Chickens haven’t shown too much interest in it. They will scratch around a little bit but haven’t really gotten into it. I did see them take a “bath” in the fresh grass clippings and old pine shavings when we first laid it down.

So how do compost piles work? Based off of my research it is all about the elements that have access to your pile.

Recipe for compost:

Add Microbes, worms, insects, and fungi

Add Nitrogen (Greens- plant scraps)

Add Carbon (Browns- leaves, woodchips, coffee grounds)

Add aeration (insure it gets good oxygen. Lack of oxygen is the cause for bad smells) Turning the pile once weekly to every other week.

If all of these elements are present, then nature should take over and do the rest. Our second pile we started we only put grass clippings down and it sat for a couple days before I realized we need to add the browns. It started to smell, you know how stinky grass clippings smell if left in the yard waste bin for too long.

So we have at least another month left until we can use our first pile. Excited to see the results!

IMG_3213

Setting up the pallets

IMG_3225(1)

Added the Greens and Browns together

IMG_3410(1)

Fluffy butts hard at work

IMG_3419

Added our second bin, and flipped our first pile and about to start adding more stuff to the first bin again.

Advertisements

Eviction Order For The Chickens

Finally! We have finished the chicken coop enough so the chickens could move out of the garage and into their new home. We still have to finish a few things, but ultimately the coop is finished enough to ensure the safety of the chickens and provide them protection from the elements.

The chickens are 8 weeks old now, and have been handling the nightly temperatures of mid to low 40s well. I still haven’t let them out into the run during the day while we are both at work. I want them to learn that the coop is where they go for food, water, shelter. I have noticed since we moved them out, they still aren’t quite sure where to go for their water and food. I will have to call them into the run and then only a couple have caught on to go up the temporary ramp to get water. But then again I am planning on moving their food and water out of the inside of the coop anyways. Plus I still need to show them they need to go inside the coop when it is time to roost.

Part of me wants to really keep the rooster we mistakenly got at the feed store. I can see the benefits of keeping him. But city code says no roosters. There is this thing called a “No Crow Rooster Collar” But the Husband thinks even with the collar it will still disturb the neighbors and he doesn’t want to risk it. The benefits that I see him providing is the added protection to the girls. I can already see him starting to protect his backyard. There was a Blue Jay that landed in the yard and he was the point of the spear with 4 other chickens following him by chasing this Blue Jay out of their yard. Then Mr. Husband came home from work (he is a Fed Ex courier) and he came into the back yard carrying a package for “D” and the rooster ran to the gate to investigate this stranger with a hat on that was coming into his yard. Another benefit is that we can replenish our flock when we want too by allowing a hen to raise a couple chicks. Only thing I am truly worried about is it bugging the neighbors and then if he turns out to be overly protective or aggressive and attacks “D”. The neighbor to the right of us hasn’t been all that friendly to start off with. She hated our dog, even though he was the best dog ever that never barked at a thing. You wouldn’t know we even had a dog, he was so quiet. She made it known she didn’t like him and would loudly talk about us getting rid of the dog or how much she hated him. Mr. Husband caught her the other day spying over the fence at the chickens. So I am sure she is cursing the gods over the recent addition to our yard. The neighbors to the left of us don’t live in the house because they are elderly and live in a nursing home. The neighbors to the back of us I am sure don’t care. But it is the neighbor to the right of us I am sure would turn us into the city faster than her fingers could dial the phone if she knew we have a rooster.

I am already super excited about the benefits I am seeing from having the chickens. Our old and neglected garden beds that are filled with weeds and covered in old leaves have been brought back to life and look amazing from all the scratching they have been doing. The awesome part is I haven’t lifted a finger to pull a weed or rake it out! I really should take some before and after pictures of the work they are doing. I just recently convenience Mr. Husband that having chickens work a compost pile is beneficial. Slowly but surely I am spreading all the knowledge I have read to others. I am still trying to convenience my parents about the benefits of putting mulch on garden beds. Cover your soil people or nature will with weeds!  (Granted I haven’t gotten around to doing it, but then again we just became home owners a month ago) I am trying to get on a “chip list” for a local tree cutting service so our house can be a dump spot for a couple truckloads of chips. Then I can start covering my beds with free wood chips! This is a small portion of a conversation that I had with Mr. Husband of why I want to start composting our yard waste, instead of hauling it away. “The biggest take away from composting is that it rebuilds your soil. Today’s world hasn’t been rebuilding their soils, which is why we get soil erosion=landslides/inability to replenish ground water=drought=less drinkable water, nutrient depleted soil=nutrient depleted food=nutrient deficient humans. Why give away/haul away $$$$….Take mom and dad for example, they are ordering 5 yards of compost soil mix. That is $230 + Taxes+ delivery charge. Plus we have chickens meaning….. They do the work (turning the pile, aerating it), their poop adds nutrients to the compost, less we have to feed them in chicken food because of the bugs they find in it.” He is under the impression that a compost pile will stink, well that is only if you add things you aren’t supposed to and it is out of balance between nitrogen and carbon. Compost is supposed to smell like dirt or earth, and it will if it is being managed right. He is also wants it confined in a container. This has a disadvantage because the chickens can’t get to it to turn it and find bugs in it, which means it will be more work on our part having to manually turning it. Granted we will have to pile it back up every once and a while. Plus it will take a lot longer for it to decompose if it isn’t exposed to the elements. I might have to do a journal on it.

Looking ahead…

  • Do the finishing touches to the chicken coop and start a chicken garden around the coop with beneficial herbs and plants for chicken health.
  • Start doing some garden work and block off my garden area I don’t want the chickens in and scratching up.

 

IMG_3314

Almost ready to move the chickens in. Just need to lay down the pine shavings and hang the food and water.

IMG_3152

Almost finished. Just needs a coat of paint.

IMG_3180

The chickens first morning in the coop. They all look to be happy and in good health.

IMG_3185

Some of the chickens enjoying a good dirt bath in the somewhat warm sun. This is one of my neglected garden areas. You can see they have started to work this area along the fence lines. This area tends to be over taken with crab grass, weeds, and bindweed during the summer months. I will be interested in how much the chickens can tame in the coming months. The battle with bind weed has been a three year battle that I am slowly making progress with.

IMG_3183

A Chicken wants to help “D” pick me some dandelion flower so I can make an infused oil with them.

IMG_3189

Mr. Husband, the Fed Ex guy delivering “D” his package and the Rooster has come to see who has come into his yard. You can see to the left the chickens have been working that neglected bed. They have scratched all the leaves out onto the lawn and have been working on the weeds. There is a little bed over by the down spout with the flower pots that they have been working on controlling the weeds, which looks like they have done a good job with.

 

Building The Chicken Coop

The Chicken Coop…. just those words is like teeth grinding or the high pitched squeal/scream of a three year old that hurts your ears so bad your eyeballs feel like they shrivel and ear drums explode in repercussion.

It has almost taken us a month to get our chicken coop done, could have been done faster if it wasn’t for the fact it has literally rained every day since we started (expect one nice sunny day that I remember vividly). Most of the work has been Mr. Husband spending his weekends working hard on it. A 7 month pregnant lady is limited to the amount of lifting and things that can be accomplished. I have mostly been doing the painting, helping of measuring, or just general supervising. So really, I can’t take any credit for getting this monster built. I have to give my husband mad kudos, Atta boy,  and props for building this huge and amazingly awesome chicken coop.

My initial plan for the coop was, I wanted the coop itself to be 6ft x 6ft, have 2 ft available under the coop, with a total length of 14 ft total for the run (including the 2 ft under the coop). Some people may think this is huge for a back yard chicken flock, I know Mr. Husband did. I wanted a nest box that had enough space for three separate nesting areas. I nest box door that flips down instead of up, so the kiddos can collect eggs. Have the coop/run be tall enough I could walk in. The coop made to support a deep litter system, with a door or flap that flips down that I can easily rake out litter. Vinyl flooring on the coop floor for easy cleaning. Two human doors that open up with windows in each. Good ventilation and windows. A hen door that can be opened by a pulley system. Oh and a roofing system that will eventually allow me to collect rain water from. Sounds like a huge laundry list of things that I want. So far, Mr. Husband has been able to deliver everyone of these and then some! “Happy wife, Happy life” right?!

Before I got the chickens, I did some research first on our city code and regulations for keeping chickens. Looked it up on the City Hall website, and called just to verify. It stated, “Animals in Residential Districts. 1.) A minimum setback of ten (10) feet from all property lines shall be required for all hutches and twenty (20) feet for all pens, coups, aviaries, similar enclosures, and free-range areas. 1.) No more than sixteen (16) poultry, birds or rabbits and similar mammals shall be permitted per acre.” The no more than 16 poultry per acre, was what was throwing me off, which is why I called to verify. We live in the suburbs and most houses in our area have on average, less than .25 acres. So I decided I wanted about 6 chickens.

Now, that I determined how many chickens I wanted, I needed to find out how much space does a chicken really need? Well this has different variables to consider. Like, will I have heavy breeds (Barred Rocks or Buff Orpingtons), or small/light breeds (bantams). So cramming a heavy breed in a 1 square foot area and expect them to be happy, isn’t ideal. (Let’s not get on the subject of living conditions of the chickens in the egg and meat industry) Some other things that need to be factored is, how much outside time will they get? Will I want room to add to my flock at some point?

Based off of multiple sources, it is suggested to have at least 4 square foot of floor space inside the coop per chicken, with at least 10 square foot room in the run per chicken. So, here comes the math… I wanted 6 chickens, 4 sq. ft. per chicken would be 24 sq. ft. total. for the run that would be 60 sq. ft. total. With my coop plans, I would have 36 sq. ft available for the coop and 84 sq. ft. for the run. Plenty of room if I got my 6 chickens. But I didn’t get just 6… shame on me! I initially got 10. I wanted to factor in mortality rate and rooster probability. As of date, 1 mortality and 1 rooster. So, I will be at a total of 8 chickens. With my design I don’t have room for flock growth. But then, I considered over time there would be at least a couple casualties to predators (we have raccoons, hawks, eagles, coyotes, cats and dogs).  Cats have already shown to be a problem, as well as a few bald eagles. So with my 8 projected chickens I will need to have 32 sq ft in the coop and 80 sq. ft in the run. I just squeaked by. Isn’t planning ahead great! Hopefully, my space allocations will provide for some happy chickens. They will get to free range for a couple hours a day and pretty much all day on weekends during the summer. Winter time they might not get as much time to free range.

Next step in the planning process was how do I want it to look? I took inspiration from the Carolina Coops and the Whichita Cabin Coops. We really didn’t draw anything out, we just kind of went with my original plan and told Mr. Husband how I wanted it when he started to build that part of it. Maybe in the future we will put together a Coop tour and how-to, step by step. Mr. Husband doesn’t have much experience or a professional on building or constructing buildings, and this is his first really big project. But I have to say he has truly amazed me in his abilities and made my dreams/plans come true in more than one way. 😉

img_2827

Laying out the foundation and making sure it is level. The neighbors cat that has become a problem already with the Chickens. It got squirted with the hose a couple times for “lurking” while the chicks were out.

IMG_3022

About 50% done. The structure is done, three sides are up, the nest box framed, windows are cut out, vinyl flooring installed, and half painted.

IMG_3118

Working on installing the roof. Installed the deep litter clean out flip down door.

IMG_3131

So close, but still far from being done. Most of the hardware cloth is now installed, just need the walk in door for run. The two human doors are installed, but still needs the finishing touches added, the window covers are installed (will be changed to Polycarbonate Sheets or Plexiglass Sheeting) Painting still needs to be finished. The chickens haven’t moved in yet, but hopefully will soon!

6 Week Chicken Update

Can’t believe the Chicks are 6 weeks old! They look like little chickens now. The journey with them has been quick. A blink of my eye and they are already chickens and 6 weeks have gone by.

Some notable moments since my last post when the chicks were 2 weeks old. Their individual personalities are showing. I have a few chickens that are very attached to me. They will be the first to the front of the brooder box “gate” to get their morning/bedtime pets or scratches. Then there is the rooster that I am 95% sure is one. He is still fairly sweet and friendly to me. Will investigate my hand and occasionally want to “cuddle” with me. Then there is one hen or suspected rooster that is the only one out of the 9 that will aggressively peck at my hand and doesn’t want to have a thing to do with me. If I get rid of the rooster or process him, this hen will have the same fate if she doesn’t knock it off. I am not going to have an aggressive hen.

I had to upgrade their food container. My favorite hen got her head stuck and ended up getting all contorted, luckily I was home to help her. Plus, I was getting tired of cleaning out their pine shavings from their food trough that they were scratching in there. Found an old plastic coffee canister, cut 2 inch diameter holes in it, drilled some holes in the top to hang it by. *Lesson Learned for next time, drill the holes higher so I can put more food into it.* I have noticed that when they get to spend a couple hours outside, it cuts their food consumption down.

I also got tired of constantly changing their water container as well.Which I used a 1 qt water base, with a mason jar on it. I changed this to an old vinegar bottle and drilled some holes to install chicken nipples into. These work well, however I don’t like the fact that when they drink, more than is needed comes out causing water spillage. This isn’t good in the pine shavings which gets soaked and then start to smell bad. So I have a little counter clock-wise raking system going on in their pool. Which then, I add fresh shavings under the water. The chicken nipples might work better in the chicken run, once that gets finished, or I might try out the chicken watering cups.

They have become used to getting treats in the morning when I come out to check on them. Lately, If I don’t bring anything out for them, they are a little loud and protests about their unhappiness, until I leave for the morning. I will usually give them leftovers or fix them something special. Most mornings it has been some sprouts, strawberry tops, old smashed berries, scrambled egg, or a handful or two of mixed salad greens. Occasionally, they will get leftover blueberry pancakes, fruit and yogurt that little “D” didn’t eat, leftover meals that has been in the fridge longer than what I feel comfortable eating (green beans, butternut squash, and chicken breast… shhh they don’t know they are cannibals), Butternut squash leftovers after we scraped out the flesh, left over sweet potato, leftover oatmeal, and whatever else I have laying around. If it has been raining outside all day or if I can’t take them outside then I will grab a handful or two of weeds or dead leaves and throw in their pool brooder.

After 6 weeks they are almost out of their chick starter food, so I am going to go ahead and buy their grower feed, which you can switch over at 8 weeks. I am trying to find someone that carries Cluckin’ Good Organic Herbs from Scratch and Peck, Cluck’n Sea Kelp by Treats for Chickens, and Cluckin’ Good Organic 3-Grain Scratch from Scratch and Peck. I have a little bit before they will need this. Might have to order a few things online.

Oh and just this week they have started losing their “chick” feathers and are getting their adult plumage. I didn’t know that they did this. I just thought that when their started growing their feathers that those were their adult feathers. Showed me differently, I was a little concerned that my Silver Laced Wyandottes (SLW) weren’t looking like the traditional SLW. Oh! The three golden laced wyandottes that I supposedly got from the feed store, are just SLW. They messed up some how. Luckly, they were the same prices. So looks like I will have 6 SLW and 3 Easter Eggers (EE).

IMG_3032

Nothing beats a chicken hug. Little “D” was having a rough day and wasn’t wanting any consoling from me. So I asked him if he wants to hug a chicken. This little EE, helped him get out of his slump. 

IMG_3020

Don’t mind the 7 month pregnant belly shot. The chicks were enjoying the first sunny day in what felt like forever. 

IMG_3070

My favorite hen, she is an EE and starting to get her beard/muffs. I also think she is top hen right now.

2016 Mason Bee Lessons Learned

For the 2016 Mason bee season. I had to build a bigger house, than the PVC pipe that I had been using and get a lot more reeds to put into their house. Which most of the reeds where used up. By summer I took all the reeds out and put them in a shoe box and stored them in the garage. About Halloween or thanksgiving time frame I was noticing a lot of “pantry moths” that were getting into the house and I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. When I went to harvest my Mason bees for the Crown Bees buy back program (which I was too late and they ended up closing it early because of the amount of bees they received.) I noticed there was a bunch of little white worms, poop and dirt in the shoe box. Definitely, not how I left them. I believe they are either a pantry moth or similar. They would eat into the mud caps and dividers and then eat the mason bee cocoon and bee. I wasn’t planning on harvesting all of my reeds this year so I could reuse them for the 2017 season. But I ended up harvesting most of them just to be safe and control the moth problem.

While I was harvesting, I found that I had a few with Chalk Broad, a few with pollen mites. The card board tubes are a favorite for the parasitic wasps which drill holes in the sides of the tube and they eat the Mason bee located in that area. Luckily, the wasp couldn’t go past the mud dividers. The worm/moths were the worst, they could destroy a whole tube. Once I finish all the tubes I ended up with at least 800 cocoons. Gave a few to my mom and her friend. So I should have close to 650-700 bees that will be released in my yard/neighborhood for the 2017 year.

Once harvested most of my bees, I placed them into the HumidBee Cocoon Humidifier, which reminds me of a cigar box or something. It worked out fine up until a couple weeks ago after I added some additional water to them. I noticed that they started growing mold on the cocoons. I am not sure it is because there was too much moisture or that I added the water directly on top of the cocoons and they didn’t dry out. Or if it was my special native bee cocoons that were the ones that started it. Not too sure, but I will give the HumidBee another chance next year.IMG_2661

For the reeds that I didn’t harvest, I put them out in the backyard PVC house so they could hatch out naturally. Seems like the bees are doing what nature intended.

IMG_3096(1)

The reeds that I didn’t harvest and allowed the bees to hatch out naturally. You can see with tubes have been hatched out of.

Bought a reusable 96-hole wooden tray from Crown Bees to put in my wooden house. I might add some additional reeds or houses this year. But then again I might have to limit how many bees I can support. 800 bees is a little much for my neighborhood to handle or I need to find someone that I could donate or sell the bees to.IMG_3127

  • Looking a head for the end of 2017 mason bee season, have Mr. C build me some of the reusable trays and a couple new bee houses.
  • Maybe get some summer bees.
  • Get a BeeGuardian protective mesh bag to prevent pest from destroying the bees I store at the end of summer.
IMG_3125

Comparison of my special native bees (on left) and a normal Blue Orchard Mason bee (on right) Female cocoon on top and Male on bottom. The native bees will use vegetation and mud mix as a divider and end cap and will almost seems squished into a tube.

Garden 2017 Progress

So far this year has sucked for gardening. I had all these elaborate plans to start seeds in doors and be ahead of the game. Have my raised garden bed with a row cover on it, so I could start some cool weather plants sooner than normal. Well, nothing has been going as planned this year. The month of February and March has hit us hard with one issue after another.

I did start some seeds in doors on February 25th, which I don’t think turned out good. I tried to make my own seed starting mix, which was a fail. Learning experience… don’t buy left over compost in a bag that has been sitting at the garden center all fall/winter long out in the elements and expect it to be good. I opened the bag and realized both buy smell and sight it wasn’t good quality. It was water logged, cakey, muddy like consistency and well beyond rotten and growing blue and white fungus all over it. Not too worried about the fungi growing on it, but the smell was horrible. Definitely didn’t smell earthy, it had a mix of dead fish and cow manure smell to it. I went ahead and used it with a mix of coconut coir, perlite, and a basic organic fertilizer. I was originally going to use some of my worm castings that has been accumulating all fall and winter. But, didn’t plan too far ahead. My worms weren’t able to keep up with the amount of food I was feeding them so I had to give them a couple months break. My bad compost makes the seed starting mix rock hard when it is dried out. I will have to experiment some more later on perfecting my seed starting mix.

  • Learning experience 1: Don’t buy old compost
  • Learning experience 2: Plan a head when using worm castings from bin so you stop feeding on one side so there isn’t any food scraps when you go to harvest castings.

Being almost 7 months pregnant and trying to prep garden beds can be very labor intensive, especially if you have back problems to begin with. I did a soil test on all my garden beds back in January. I knew what I needed to add to my soils a head of time, but didn’t get around to doing it until March. Then planted some cool weather crops on March 11th, that will hopefully be done by the time my hot weather crops need to be rotated in. The hardest part to prepping the garden this year is the fact that weather SUCKED! It literally has been constant rainfall all of March and freezing wet temperatures in February. Being pregnant and working the soil isn’t too bad, you can just put an ice pack on it later. But when you are freezing cold and soaking wet and pregnant then that is just down right miserable. I still have a lot more soil preparation to do. One garden bed down two and half more to go.

Not to mention building our chicken coop. The weather has really put a stall on the progress. The chicks are quickly coming up on 6 weeks and every day that passes and they are still in their tiny baby pool, the more apparent it is they need to get their eviction notice from our garage. They are fighting and picking on each other more each day. Which, I have come up with a couple creative solutions to a few problems we have been having.

So, hopefully this year for gardening will turn around. There is a ticking time bomb inside me that is due to go off June 5th. I want to get as much done, that way I don’t have to worry about to much when I am out of commission end of May beginning of June.

Things that still need to be done…

  • Compost bin started
  • Finish soil prepping
  • Plant planned crops on time
  • Beautify chicken coop with chicken friendly plants
  • Oh and can’t forget to get my Mason Bees outside!

IMG_3095IMG_3094

How I am Raising My Chicks

How am I trying to raise my chicks all natural, organic, GMO-free, and antibiotic free?

Why I feel it is important to start my chicks off as natural as possible? What you put into them, you will get out when they start laying. If they start with a healthy immune system and have eaten nothing but natural organic food that is antibiotic free and GMO-free, they will pass the healthy benefits to their eggs. Which you consume and eat as well. So, if you are feeding the crappy and processed food that is loaded with chemicals, you will end up eating the same chemicals and bad stuff that your chickens are. Everything is connected in our food chain, you are what you eat. You eat healthy food, you become healthy.

So where to start? Well since I am new to raising chickens and just recently started, I am not claiming to know everything or a professional chicken raiser. In theory, based off of lots of research and what I am currently doing, only time will tell if what I am doing is good or bad. So far, I have already made a mistake. Best advice I can give you… Know your goals and what you want your end result to be, do your research, and LISTEN to your gut.

In theory, everything born pretty much doesn’t have much of an immune system or digestive gut health. So, how does one go about increasing baby chick’s immune system?  Starting out with a good feed starter. I would recommend the Naturally Free Starter from Scratch and Peck. Initially, when I went to pick up my chicks from the feed store this is what I was going to get. But from much pressure and nah-saying from the store attendant and being a newbie that lacked confidence in my research and newly found knowledge, I was half convinced to get another brand. The store attendant suggested I get the medicated chick starter, which I declined and got Purina® Organic Starter-Grower. Still organic, but it was processed. I ended up kicking myself in the butt and went back and got my Scratch and Peck Chick Start feed. So, now I have two feeds that I need to get rid of. So what I am doing is mixing them, half and half.

After you have your feed you can start to ferment your feed and slowly get your chicks used to eating it. I didn’t have a problem with picky chicks not wanting the fermented food. Mine absolutely devours the fermented food first and then eat the dry mixed food until I give them more fermented food.  Why is fermented food good for your chicks, in short response it provides beneficial enzymes to help digestion, adds beneficial probiotic, and increases the nutrient content from the food, so they need/eat less. For my chicks’ water, the feed store had them on chick/chicken probiotics which I have them on, but just a little bit of that, and I add Apple Cider Vinegar and a little piece of a garlic clove to their water. The first couple days I had them on plain Greek yogurt mixed with hard-boiled egg yolk with some chick feed soaked in water. I did this up until my fermented feed was ready (about 3 days).  I will occasionally give them a little bit of yogurt mixed with dry food, cooked rice, or plain oatmeal. (Honestly, just trying to get rid of the little yogurt cup I bought at the store and don’t want it to go to waste.) When I noticed our sick chick (refer to Beginning Our Chicken Adventure post) I did an oregano tea for their water for 24 hours. Oregano is known to be a natural antibiotic. Looking into the future… Going to get my chicks to eat fresh/dried oregano to their feed.

There is a lot of nah-sayers out there that say not to feed your chicks anything but their special chick starter food. (How B-O-R-I-N-G!!!) So, I look to nature to see what should be done. Honestly, mother Hen has those chicks scratching around in the dirt and the great outdoors pretty much from day one. I think, why not mine? I have been providing them with the best digestive enzymes and probiotic out there. Why not some added beneficial soil microbes and actual bugs and worms? Granted we are still in mid-February where temps haven’t been getting above 50 degrees during the day. But I figure at least 10-20 minute breaks to be actual chickens won’t hurt. (If they start to show signs of stress or too cold they go back inside.) So far, they love it and I haven’t seen any negative effects yet. Another thing that I do is, since it is spring there is an abundance of chickweed in my garden beds. (They don’t call it chickweed for nothing.) It has a high nutritional value, which is high in Vitamin C, GLA an omega-6 fatty acid, vitamin B2, B1, vitamin A, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, manganese, sodium, selenium and silica. Chickweed is known for its soothing, healing and natural pain relief properties. I give this to my chicks about every other day. I make sure to rip it into small pieces so they aren’t gagging on the long pieces of it, like how you would if you tried to swallow a spaghetti noodle without chewing. With this, once you start feeding them stuff other than their boring old formulated food, you need to be sure to offer free choice, chick grit.

 

img_2821

All 9 chicks at two weeks old, being put to work already prepping one of my garden beds. This day was 44 degrees out, but in this bed with the cover, it was significantly warmer. One was trying to take a “dirt” bath that was more like mud and ended up getting too cold so she was moved inside.

img_2823

Two week old chicks prepping the gardening bed. They looks so tiny out in the big world. They enjoyed pecking around in the dirt.

Looking into the future… building the coop, and just enjoying the moments of chick-hood.

Beginning Our Chicken Adventure

Since we are buying the house we are currently living in, we decided to finally get my chickens. This is our first time raising chicks, so we have no idea what we are getting ourselves into. A couple of weeks prior, I did my research on how to raise chicks, the best way to build their coop, how they can benefit you (besides the eggs). This whole process has been a big learning experience. There is so much information out there, it is hard to know what to follow. I end goal, you get out what you put in. So, I want all natural organic, pesticide free, antibiotic free, GMO- free eggs.

Our options were a little limited on where we could buy our chicks. In the city of Lakewood, we can have up to 16 birds. I knew right off I didn’t want that many on our 9,000 square feet lot. If we ordered from an online hatchery, I would have to order 25! So my ideal amount would be 6-8 birds. I wanted to account for any losses or possible rooster we might have. So, on February 10th we brought home 10 baby chicks from the local feed store. The breeds I picked out were, 3 Silver Laced Wyandottes, 3 Golden Laced Wyandottes, and 4 Easter Egger/Ameraucana chickens. If I do this again, I will try to find someone to order 25 chicks with and split them, that way I can get varieties that the feed stores don’t carry.

 

img_3098

Practicing roosting on their chick roost

I set up my baby chicks in a 55 gallon plastic storage bin with pine shavings, heat lamp, and food and water. The first couple days they were in our living room. We soon realized that the pine shavings are very dusty when they start scratching around. So they quickly got moved into our spare room that is our sons play room. The chicks being in the house only lasted a week, until we decided to move them into the garage because of the dust and smell. With 10 chicks, they start to smell a little like poopie pine shaving smell, it is not the first smell I want to smell walking into my house.

img_3096

Little “D” showing grandma his favorite chick. Baby Chicks in their 55 gallon storage bin. About 1 week + 2 Days old.

After the first day or so, I noticed one of the Easter Egger chicks just didn’t look good. It wasn’t as active as the others, slept a lot, and wasn’t interested in treats that I feed to the others. It just stood around under the heat lamp and looked mopey. Her wings were droopy to the point that I thought her wings were broken. But when she did manage to get up and go drink or “eat” she would tighten them back up to her body. So what was wrong with her? I segregated her in a separate box, but she just kept jumping out. Was able to observe her poop which looked normal so that ruled out the chicken disease Coccidiosis. Upon further researching, I couldn’t find anything that matched her symptoms. No sneezing or running nose, no breathing hard or gasping for air. Then I came across the failure to thrive. I started to think this might be the chicks problem. But I wanted to give it every chance possible to survive. I started using a syringe to give her water and food. Placing drop by drop at the end of her beak so she would tilt her head back voluntarily and swallow. I started her off with a molasses and apple cider vinegar mix to hopefully give her a sugar rush and give her some energy to eat. For food, I soaked the chick food in warm water then mixed with, plain Greek yogurt, and hard-boiled egg yolk. She ate a really good portion of this. I continued this for about two days. I was weighing her with my scale to track her weight. We started out at 38 grams. But the time Valentine’s Day came around (4 days after I got the chicks) her weight was down to 32 grams. Which in comparison to her brooder mates that were now in the 50-60 gram range. On V-day evening, I decided that she was just wasting away and her condition had gotten worse. She no longer drank the water I gave her and wouldn’t even make an effort to eat the food I would put on the side of her beak. In fact, when I would put her down by the water to see if she would drink by herself, she attempted to but I noticed when she would tilt her head back to swallow it, it looked like she no longer had the function to swallow. She looked like she was gagging and then start panting/gasping for air. I decided it was time to end her suffering.

So, we were down to 9 now. Then, I noticed one of the Wyandottes wasn’t looking like the rest. The wings that were feathered out were really short, stubby and rounded. Then started to do a little research on how to sex chicks based off their wings. Found that Hens have a double set of primary wing feathers that are fairly long and oval like. But roosters on have shorter and stubbier primary feathers and are usually a lot slower to feather their tail out. I suspect the Wyandotte is going to be a rooster. The older he gets the more he is acting like one too. So in a couple of weeks time I guess we will know for sure. I really want him to be able to go to a home that will let him live out his life as a rooster instead of becoming a chicken dinner. So it looks like, if everything else goes as planned and nothing else happens. We will have 8 egg laying chickens.

We have realized a 55 gallon storage bin is a little small for nine 2 week old chicks that are testing their wings out. So, the chicks semi-permanent home is now a green kiddie pool that the husband did a make shift fencing around it to keep them in. We will have to put wire on top here in a couple of days. Last night I was watching my chicken TV and one of the Wyandottes that likes to cuddle or sit on me almost got over the side wire to me. It is so funny, I have noticed there are chicks that don’t want to have anything to do with you. And then there are the ones that all they want to do is perch or sit on you for a little bit, and if you are lucky, get a cuddle or snuggle in, who falls asleep on you.

 

img_3122

Chicks in their kiddie pool. Almost 2 weeks old.

img_3124

More space in their kiddie pool. Added a natural branch for more practice

Looking into the future with our chicken adventure… Tackling building the coop. The count down to get the chickens out into their coop is ticking, faster and faster.

Let the Adventures Begin

For a long time now I have been wanting to get on the modern-day homesteading road to sustainability. Grow my own food, preserve my own food, learn how to make every day useful items for around the house. Over the last three years or so, I have slowly been learning new techniques on how to become more sustainable.

What do I think being sustainable means? Not having to rely on the grocery stores, power and water companies, government, and just in general knowing how to take care of my family if one of these system fail. I have come to realize that a lot of people don’t know the basics anymore. Whether it is cooking from scratch or preserving your own food. People rely heavily on getting their products from grocery stores. If you walk down any grocery store  aisle, they have tons of food items that come in boxes or packaging. They are convent, but the down fall is you can’t control how or what it is made with. Take fruit cups; your options are usually loaded with sugar or juice (that still has sugar). What if you wanted a sugar-free option? Sometimes stores have it available, other times not. What if you want 100% organic fruit used, well that come at an additional price. What if you want to customize the flavors in it? Like vanilla pear, or bourbon peach (for adults), or strawberry blueberry fruit mix. You usually can’t buy any of that in the stores. These are some of the reason that I like to preserve food. The customization is endless, and you get to curtail it to your liking. Plus who doesn’t like eating sweet juicy pears in the middle of dead winter?

Growing my own food is very rewarding. It tastes better and you know where it came from and what went into growing that food. Plus you don’t have to spend the money at a grocery store to buy produce, so you are cutting the cost of your grocery bill. If you have a surplus of a certain vegetable you have preserve it so you can eat it during the winter months.

So, this blog is going to be a record for my family’s adventure on becoming more sustainable. Reason why I decided to start now? Well, for the last 3 1/2 years my options have been limited on what I can do at the house we are currently living in because we have been renting. The landlord has been reluctant for us to make any changes and we haven’t wanted to invest a lot of time or money into something that there is a possibility we won’t be staying at for very long. But this is all changing, within the next couple weeks we will be homeowners to the house we have been renting. Since we are just waiting on a closing date, we decided to get started on a few things. Chickens, have been one of those things. We got 10 chicks the second week of February and are currently building their coop. Oh and did I mention that I need to start my garden seeds and start prepping the soil for this coming garden season? While all this is going on we are going to need to start prepping for our second child to come into this world. She is going to be due early June. So let the adventures begin!