Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A break for beauty, and a whole lot of chicken changes.

In between the storms that have been rumbling through the area dumping water in copious amounts, and bringing cold temperatures, we've had some gorgeous weather come through. We try to make sure we take the time to enjoy the beauty around us every day, even in the dark days. On days like this though, it's easy to appreciate even the most mundane parts of our home. In this case, even our regular trouble, the driveway, has provided real beauty to enjoy. Even with the pauses for beauty though, we have plenty going on.

First thing on the get stuff done list is of course the chicken coop. You may notice it's fairly different than it was last time we looked at it. The Lady of the House was uncomfortable with it being up as high as it was for safety reasons. Given that she's going to be in there cleaning it as much as, if not more than I will be, we knocked the legs out of it, and brought it down to ground level, resting on cinder blocks. There's some trade offs there in safety of the chickens, but we can compensate for that to some extent by clearing brush around the coop, and using wire around the base of the coop to prevent predators from chewing in. We also were recently given a generous gift of chocolate mint that we can propagate around the coop which will discourage predators. Anyhow, we got a lot done, and as you can see Above we had help from a couple friends that came up Friday and Saturday both to help out. Thanks to that we have the roof on, the walls up, and at least some of the sheathing on.
It will be a good thing to free up this coop. I'm guessing we're going to be using this coop and run as a introduction area for new chickens, or the like. Obviously it's never a bad thing to have extra space though! Right now the Australorp is in there sitting on her eggs, so the move won't be as soon as we're done. We don't know how many of the eggs she's on will be viable obviously, but it would be great to have more chicks beyond the ones in the incubator. Before I go on about that though, in the photo Above on the pile of wood, some of the chicks are sitting there and just relaxing in the sun, probably drying off from the copious rain and their wanderings through the brush.
As for the eggs in the incubator, today is day 16, in 2 days we stop turning the eggs, and 3 days after that we'll see if any of them hatch. We're hoping for some good luck in that department, and seeing lots of chicks. If we get a bumper crop of chicks we may actually replace the eggs under the Australorp with the chicks from the incubator. For your information, something I didn't know was that the reason you stop turning eggs at day 18 is that after that, turning them can kill the chick. Since we want to avoid that at all costs, we'll follow the directions! As for the living chicks, the 5 of them are doing very well, and making their way in the world with great facility. They are getting more confident daily.
I suspect a good part of that comes from the rooster having taken them in, and watching over them. As you can see Left Mr. Bond has been treating them as his which is an important step in them being part of the flock, since the Australorp stopped watching over them a couple weeks ago. Mr. Bond has turned out very well for us, even though he was sort of a blind luck thing that came up for us. We had been somewhat hesitant about a rooster because many of them can be mean or troublesome, especially for guests. Mr Bond on the other hand has been gentle, and still keeps the flock together.
We hope he passes on some of his tendencies to his chicks, both in terms of docility and being really pretty. After all, roosters don't live for ever, and we will eventually have to replace him. If we can replace him with a confident, and friendly rooster descended from him that would be great. Obviously there's plenty of things with genetics that can influence that, but we're hoping. As it is for now, he's doing a great job at what he does, though I could hope for him to be better at keeping his hens alive. There is a reason for the name Mr. Bond of course, but there's no perfect. Especially when your stock is free!

Over all, we feel like we're starting to get a handle on the chicken situation, and knowing what we're doing. They are low maintenance even compared to the rabbits. In terms of start up costs, they've been damn near free for us. That isn't indicative of the actual start up costs of chickens though. The coop I'm building right now is made of recycled lumber that took a lot of work to get, and if we'd had to purchase it wouldn't be anything like free, or even particularly inexpensive. The stock of chickens we got, again, normally wouldn't be free. We were fortunate to have friends gift us hens, and a rooster at our wedding and a little after which is what got us started. Our first coop was free as someone else was getting out of chickens. Without that the eggs totally wouldn't be worth the price.
Well, they wouldn't be the price monetarily. I think the time that the Lady of the House and the Critter spend enjoying watching them is probably actually worth quite a bit. The other thing is, despite ticks still being a problem, they have made a HUGE difference in the number of bugs in the area I'd be willing to bet. For me that's a fairly significant benefit for me. I mean, I know that having possums leashed around the yard would probably be the best way to keep ticks out, but they aren't nearly as cute as chickens, and they certainly don't have the long term products.  Eggs, meat, tick control, and having gotten started for low cost has worked out very well for us. Doesn't change that the rabbits have worked out very well for us for an ethical meat source, which actually comes to the big thing for me. With free ranging our chickens, there's an element of chance and  lack of control about what's going to happen with them that can be a little frustrating. We've lost over half of our laying hens which drastically changes things quickly. If we kept them confined we could reduce most of the variation, but then we'd be compromising one of the major parts of what we're doing
It makes more and more sense over time as we learn why a mix of livestock was vital for any homesteader. To avoid the worst of the shortages in March and April we really do need a more diverse set of food products, and it's going to be interesting for us as we get from here to there. The next steps are going to be finishing up that coop, then building the two extra rabbit hutches. After those are accomplished, getting the pasture set up for larger animals is going to be the next project, and that one should probably have a bit more planning than you've seen lately for the coop or hutches.

Lots going on between here and there of course, so thank you all for following along as we learn things. Even if sometimes it is the hard way.

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