A Chicken Update

The chickens are more of a background creature on the farm so I rarely talk about just them. So here’s a chance for me to do just that.

We had some chicken losses this year, probably due to the small local population of hawks though I can’t confirm this first-hand. One thing’s for sure, they just disappeared, up and gone one day.

The remaining Don Juan bunch

Of Don Juan’s group, we lost one of the Mexican girls and two of the spotted hens.

All Vanilla Ices family is good!

We have lost no one from Vanilla Ice’s white group (the second hen is hiding in the ground behind the hen in the foreground). The red silkies I adopted have all since disappeared.

This is a natural result of a few factors.

One, my chickens are bantams, they are quarter to half sized chickens. While this means they are nimbler, it also means they can be predated easily by things like snakes and raccoons. It also means their babies are super tiny and thus are basically little jalapeno poppers for rats.

Two, my chickens are completely free-range. We provide them with water and food and a nice home, but they choose to go do their own thing during the day and sleep in various spots in the barn at night. This makes it easy for sky creatures to hunt them down and also lets them do dumb things like wander off into a hole or walk into a dog’s mouth. A side effect is that we had no real control over egg collection nor when they went broody and could not directly care for the newborn bantam chicks.

I will be fixing my chicken approach in a few ways. I do believe that chickens should be free to roam around in the grass and dirt etc, but I want to give them a much more secure home to rest in during the night, one that also lets me collect their eggs with ease. I will also be moving to a larger breed of chicken instead of raising the bantams. Bantams are delicate and dainty little things who produce small eggs and barely any meat on their carcass. Comparing bantams to regular full chickens is kind of like comparing an orchid to an apple tree in terms of how much it gives back to you. If your priorities are beauty well then of course the orchid and bantam win, but my priorities are reliable food production, so it makes sense to change to the traditional breeds. Now with a half year’s experience under my wings I know where and how to buy these regular chickens, so I can spend the fall and winter planning my construction and the spring building and stocking it with some fine feathered friends, ones who will be more safer and provide me with more value than the bantams.

That said, the bantams were great to learn with, I do not feel in any way that I squandered my money on them. In fact I ended up getting my ducks from the same bird auction as the chickens, so if not for my want of chickens I wouldn’t have learned how much I love raising ducks. And I don’t intend to get rid of the ones I have now, I will make them a nice secure winter hangout (probably they’ll hang with the ducks anyhow) and tend to their needs, and in the spring if they are still around I will make them a nice and safe enclosure where we can all tend to their young without fear of rats etc.

Animal Update

I’ve been posting a lot about my growing veggies, but what about my growing animals?

The sheep are all enjoying the great weather and great pasture. Our new additions (Keelin, Macaroon, and Rolo) have all fit in perfectly. Macaroon is surprisingly bold – she is the ewe who is staring down Lee and stomping her feet at him, before going in for a sniff. Rolo is bold as well, but she’s more like Macaroon’s wing-girl. Keelin remains best friends with Price. I have yet to pet either of the two. I will be remedying this in the coming days!

The turkeys are loving it in the garden. They patrol around all day, eating bugs and greens. They are not eating my growing beans and peas and for that I am very glad! Plus all their walking helps keep the paths tame. I have finally cleaned out the basement and let me tell you, I have learned that I will never be doing that again- it’s brooder boxes and a brooder shack outdoors from this point on. But hey, we all do silly things from time to time.  Considering I’ll never be raising such a small number of birds from this point out, it wouldn’t be feasible doing it any other time but this year.

The chickens completely failed at raising any babies so far. The ducks are completely succeeding. Ducks win. Hands down.

Speaking of the ducks, you should see them now! They are all brown-chested with little bum feathers. They wiggle them around when they’re happy. Cutest thing in the world next to the “I’m wet” T-rex arm shaking. I expect they will be adorable when they start learning how to fly! Oh, Tom and I caught a really neat duck behaviour – a duckling fight. We think it was some dominance issue. They were charging into each other with their chests and wrapping around with their necks to nibble on each other’s arms. Eventually mom came over and broke things up, but not until after the ducklings had fought in the pool for a bit – maybe mom knows that cooler heads prevail?

Ruby might be finding a new home in September. There is a farm outside of Kanata who is interested in a mentor goat. That is one thing I’ve learned Ruby is great at, goat mentoring – she’s a good foster mom. But you have to keep an eye on her, else she’ll teach the younguns how to escape and cross the road. With proper fencing though she will be a great leader for raising other goats. I have come to respect her good temperament on a leash – it is nice having an animal come where you want it to go!

Nothing new is with Spirit. She is enjoying her haircut, and was puzzled by Lee’s presence, but now she’s back to her ho-hum style of life. She warned off more coyotes last night. She’s easily made her value known on this farm and has long since recouped her cost. I don’t know how many lambs I would have buried this year had it not been for her presence.

Everything is new with Lee! He is doing mighty fine considering he was a country dog. We went into Rockland today for supplies and he got to go into a local pet store, where we found his #1 favorite toy – the Kong Extreme rubber bouncy chew toy. You can put snacks into it! Lee loves to chase it around because it bounces around unpredictably. He’s a bit bored with his rope and ball, it’s too predictable, but the Kong he could play with all day. And surprise surprise, Lee already has a gist of the “drop” command, plus I’ve been working on his consistency in returning the toys to me (basically fetching without the command yet). Each day I’m learning how to read him a bit more, I can tell what sort of mood he’s in and that lets me provide for him better; in return he remains comfortable and content with his position as Gamma Dog and focuses on being a productive pack member who obeys what Alpha and Beta say. He is one heck of a smart cookie though – when I look into his eyes I kinda get the feeling like he’s a person stuck in a dog’s body. Then he does a dog thing like licking his butthole and I’m brought right back to reality! And then he does an awesome dog thing like rounding up the goat kiddies and making them go right back through the fence they waltzed through a second ago, saving me much time and running around. Way to go boy!

Plus 4 Chickens, Minus One Rooster

Yesterday, while Dad was mowing the lawn, he heard peeping. Sure enough, it was coming from the spotted hen who has been sitting on her outside nest for the past 3 weeks. We investigated and found 3 fluffy chicks and 1 black chick working its way out of the shell, as well as 3 other eggs that have yet to hatch. Even though we have solved the rat problem in the barn, we decided to bring them indoors for the first week or two until they’re big enough to fend for themselves. We did this for Gordita and Hope, who hatched at the beginning of June, and now they are outside exploring the world and being happy chickens so it seems to be a good setup.

As a sidenote, I have learned the valuable importance of using straw versus paper for chicken bedding. Namely, never try to use anything but straw, unless you enjoy really fowl smells…

Yesterday was also Cluck Norris’ time to go. He was the last red Silkie rooster from the group of 4 I purchased a few weeks ago – the one designated for eating originally, Dinner, ran off with one of the red hens, leaving us with one rooster and one hen. That hen promptly fell in love with Vanilla Ice, leaving Cluck Norris alone and annoyed. When we brought out little Hope a week ago, he tried to grab her and run away, presumably to kill the little chick. With at least one nest of eggs hatching in the future, that behaviour simply had to go.

So we did him in. I won’t go in to any details, suffice to say it was surprisingly easy to do (as long as you pick a set of clothes to butcher in, cause they’ll be bloody), he was very easy to pluck and gut (and was quite a healthy lean bird), but it was peculiarly strange feeling his warm insides. Once his head was off and his body stopped moving he immediately changed from a creature to a dinner. The change was explicit and actually a bit surprising to feel. We cooked him up on a bed of veggies and respected his existence. For what it’s worth, he put up one hell of a fight on our dinner plates and was not really that spectacular of a bird to eat, so ultimately he had the last laugh.

Hello Baby Chicks!

New peepers!

Here is Mama Chicken (I believe it’s Gordita) and four of the five chicks that have hatched so far. Two are black, one is gold, and two are mottled mixes. We shall better identify their breeds as they grow older.

Two days ago we brought in our new red Silkies and fenced them into the corner for their “welcome to the farm, get used to your new home” period of time. At that time the chicks were still in their eggshells and no peeps were heard. Yesterday we heard very light peeping noises coming from the nest, so I went out and got some feed and feeders for the little ones. Today when we checked up on them, we were met with Mama trying to get at the Silkies’ food and these little guys working their way out of the nest!

Take A- Wing

Mama had a snack and then made a neat new noise which I expect means “come here my little chickies”. She opened her wings as pictured above, and the little chicks made their way to their mama. Well, except the gold one, who chose to ride on top of mama… good thinking little one!

Two Peepers

There are still more eggs to be hatched, so we’ll see if Gordita goes on the nest to hatch them. Otherwise I might be getting an incubator soon, so perhaps we can save the remainder of them. Regardless, I’m happy to have the new little peeps on the farm!

New Peeper

They are no bigger than a walnut. Little tiny wings. The most precious tiny nuggets of joy I’ve seen yet!

The start of a super veggie garden

Garden 1

Here it is, my friends! It’s the start of something fantastic – my ever expanding veggie garden here on the farm. This year’s expansion went from absolutely no garden to having two 10×10 raised beds protected with a double fence to keep the animals out. In addition to the two beds, we have included a lot of fenced in space for a bunch of Three Sisters gardens which we will be constructing in the coming days. I’m planning on stealing a mound to plant potatoes too.

The garden box pictured above contains our solanum plants – tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplants. It also contains a corner of cauliflowers, and planted throughout are basil, lettuce, green onions, leeks, and the mystery seedling I saved a few weeks ago. We have a few more spaces between the stones for other plants, possibly some of the early seeds we have started inside.

Building this bed was surprisingly hard, but it’s that good kind of work that really tires you out at the end of the day. I think it took 50 or more wheelbarrows of soil to fill it up. That said, the effort we made saved us from purchasing such soil, which made the actual cost of setting this installation up really low. That is one thing I am learning in my farming adventure: there’s a relationship between money and time/effort, if you’re willing to put in more of one you don’t need as much of the other. At this point in my life I am fully embracing the effort end of things. I am finding that the more I do things and the harder they are to start, the easier they become. Plus it’s always great to look on your accomplishment and know that you did it yourself, you became greater for doing it, you changed the universe even if it’s just a tiny little bit.

The one consequence to hard work is a lack of time and energy to share my adventures with you. I have uploaded a bunch of new pictures of the animals on the farm which you can find on my Flickr page. And I thank those people who have contacted me about my Happy Chicken campaign, I am in the midst of determining if I’ll start a small little flock for this year or whether to wait for next year. I am very much leaning in the direction of this year, the experience will be valuable but also I simply love all the little baby peepers, and my turkey peepers are most certainly not as cute as they were last week! I am thinking about going with the Chantecler breed, they are a special Canadian breed of chicken who produce a carcass weighing between 2.5kg/5lbs (small hen) to 3.9kg/8.5lbs (large male). A nice big chicken indeed!

New Birds on the Farm

We went to our first livestock auction yesterday. It was the Eastern Bird Breeder’s Association auction in Vernon, Ontario. It was so exciting! The auctioneer was very skilled, I was amazed at his ability to eek out one more bid and one more dollar from the bidders. I was also impressed with how fair the prices were, some people got amazing deals and the expensive rare lots were valued accordingly. The variety of birds was astounding – in addition to many roosters and hens of various breeds, there were a set of adorable emu chicks, a few mallards (permit required), and one extremely rare bird that the auctioneer said he had never seen before (permit required) which eventually sold for more than $450 after a fierce bidding war. With a casual and friendly atmosphere, it was a great way to spend a Saturday morning.

My intention for going to it was to pick up some ladies for Don Juan the rooster, and I did so early on in the auction, buying a pair of Cochin hens. They came in a nicely made wooden crate which we’re temporarily using as their nests. Here’s a blurry shot of them with Don Juan:

Don Juan and his family

And a picture of one of the girls taken with the flash on:

One of Don Juan's girls

These girls make the cutest little coo chirping noises! They have already grouped up with Don Juan, the three are often seen close together. We chose to name the girls Fajita and Gordita, as the real Don Juan was Spanish and that’s what they speak in Mexico.

I also purchased a breeding pair of chocolate Muscovy ducks. I was interested in getting some Muscovy ducks as they make for excellent bug killers, however I hadn’t noticed them while examining the lots before the auction so they came as quite a surprise when they were called out.  We named the man John Smith and the girl is named Jane Doe. You can see one of them, the girl I believe, in this picture:

Silkies, Muscovy duck and Don Juan

Also pictured above are my final purchase of the day, a breeding trio of white Silkies. I didn’t pay too much attention to their written description nor did the auctioneer, so it was a bit of a surprise to see a Silkie rooster in with the two ladies instead of what I had thought were three ladies. But I’m actually pleased, now we have a chance at getting full blooded Silkie chicks! Silkies are really awesome and unique chickens, due mostly in part to their unique feather structure which is soft, not rigid like all other chickens. In fact, their feathers are so soft that they can’t fly, which makes them great for not escaping. Here’s a great shot of the trio:

Silkies 2

Right now, everyone is living in the barn’s back room, which we retrofitted into their coop. During these days they’ll learn that this is their new home, and they’ll relax and settle in. We’ll be adding in a little sliding door in the next while so that they can come and go as they like, then they’ll be pretty much left to run around and be happy and safe.