Chickens, Guinea Update & Sheep

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Chickens in the grass.

Whew! Lots to write this week, even with the continual rain.

The girls are doing well, with Brownie and Quintuplets about the same size as Beulah and Winona. They look like they might get even bigger. They do alright in the rain, but when it’s really bad (we’ve had some incredibly severe thunderstorms), they go inside. But they generally remain out during light drizzles.

The keets are doing okay. I did lose the second chick, unfortunately, but not surprising. We  increased the output of the heat lamp — basically got a hotter bulb. My concern is that they weren’t warm enough, even though the temperature has been (until last night) very hot and humid. When I saw a third keet exhibit the signs the two that had died exhibited, I freaked and got that hotter bulb. That seemed to do the trick. The little thing perked right up, then went to sleep. They all went to sleep after a couple of minutes under that bulb. I feel horrible… maybe I wouldn’t have lost the other two if I had used that bulb from the beginning — I was honestly concerned about them overheating because of the weather. And a 20% attrition rate is normal, although sad. Well, I learned my lesson and will pay less attention to the weather and more attention to heating up chicks.

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It looks weird, but this configuration seems to work the best, giving the keets just enough heat without overheating them. They move back and forth between being under the lamp and laying on their food. I look forward to their having more room soon!

We also had a little problem with pasty butt. That’s when they defecate, and it gets stuck to their rear. So, I gently dipped their rear ends into warm water and gently cleaned their bums, then applied a light coating of antibiotic cream. I’ll keep an eye out to make sure we have no further issues.

Their appetite today has suddenly jumped. In addition to constantly watering them, I am now constantly feeding them. That’s okay. I want them to get big! I have to prep the next size container for when they jump up in size.

The other big highlight of my week, that I haven’t mentioned yet, was visiting a small sheep farm! I met a lovely woman, Maureen, at Farm to School. She raises sheep and was gracious enough to invite me out to see her operation. Of course I jumped at the chance!

She makes it look so easy. With a smallish flock of 14 sheep, she is able to rotate them from field to field with a temporary, solar-powered electric fence. They have minimum cover and stay outside unless there are extreme weather conditions. Usually horrifically low winter temperatures. Then they go in the barn for a day or two. She hires a professional shearer to shear the sheep, then does a high level clean of the wool and sells it raw. Awesome! Care for the animals includes annual vaccinations and the occasional nail clipping. And of course, ensuring they always have water, food, and minerals. Should I get a job (soon!), I may purchase a couple of her lambs in the spring. Then they can mow the lawn for me! And since my chickens are taking their own sweet time clearing the raised beds, I can stick the lambies in with them to help. It’s a win-win. I may even sell the wool. While it won’t be a money-making proposition, it would help offset the cost of winter feed a bit. Below are are couple of photos:

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I believe Maureen called these “calf” shelters. They are inexpensive, lightweight and easy to move. They provide great shelter during inclement weather.

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Lone little ducky. His siblings went to the great pond in the sky.

I’ll leave you with a link to a new, and favorite blog I’ve discovered, on women’s health. I think this doctor is absolutely wonderful and wish we had more like her. Let me introduce you to Dr. Leah Torres.

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Guineas

Ohhh-kay… a few weeks ago Mr. Henhouse mentioned getting guinea chicks (keets) to help with pest control in the backyard. (They are phenomenal bug eaters!). And I love the idea and have been wanting to do this for awhile. But I said, “Wait! Love it, but we need to talk first.” I had reservations:

1) I’m unemployed right now. This is my 3rd lay-off in a row. We’re okay now, but what happens if we run into money issues?

2) Neighbors — Guineas are noisy. They like to talk. We have neighbors. While the lots are relatively large (generally between 3/4 of an acre and an acre), we still have neighbors to consider.

3) Neighbors — Guineas sometimes roam. They are fliers and there is a good possibility they will visit neighbor’s yards looking for bugs.

My keets!

However, with this, that, and the other thing, I forgot to follow up and got the dreaded “I’m picking up the keets tonight!” I bought myself a day so I could get them food, and this past Monday we picked up six beautiful keets. I do love them. Keets are TINY!

We put them in the big crate, thinking it is so hot, that with a lamp, they will be fine. Well, we lost one the next day. So we moved them to a smaller crate, thinking that maybe the little critter just got too cold. And I’m losing one now. Makes me sad. I know there’s usually a 20% attrition rate with chicks, but I don’t like it. And none of my chicks from the Tractor Supply Store (Brownie and Quintuplets) died. I suspect those girls were at least a week old while the keets were about 24 to 48 hours old.

I also don’t know how many females or males I have. Keets aren’t sexed. I believe it’s just not possible for guineas to be sexed until they are several weeks old. Fortunately, the males are not aggressive like roosters, so they all get along. And, guineas in general tend to be territorial so I will try teaching them their “territory.” We’ll see how that works. They can be very tame if socialized properly and can live with chickens, so they will be slightly packed in the coop, although that will work nicely in the cold weather.

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Keets in the smaller crate.

Speaking of weather… the weather here lately with incredibly loud and close lightening strikes. The hens are okay, but I’m sure they’re getting as tired of the rain as I am. But, it does save me watering the garden.

Ahh, the garden. Corn and peas are now in. Finishing up tomatillos, peppers, and luffa this weekend — weather willing. And then done. Just weeding, watering, and growing.

I’m testing the luffa. I’m not sure how well it will grow up here, but I thought I’d give it a try. The seeds sprouted right up and grew very well. The sprouts look very healthy. So, we’ll see what happens. If I get a big enough crop, I may even clean and sell them. Natural luffa is so much nicer than those plastic scrub pads people use in the shower now.

And I’ll close with a reference to my last post on bees. Here’s a link to cartoon on Far Left Side. Enjoy!

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Chickens in the weeds

They really love the new garden box, although they are taking their sweet time eating down all the green stuff. Various photos for your view pleasure. It’s so great when the sun is out.

Beulahs Cheeks

Beulah’s cheek tufts… she’s so cute!

Chickens in the weeds

Chickens in the weeds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dust Baths

Dust bathing.

Dirty Girl

Dirty Girl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ash checking out the girls

Serial killer saying hello to the girls. And no, he does not bother them. He showed slight interest in the peepers when they were young, but it was only in passing and it passed quickly!

And I will end on a slightly depressing note today. We know bees are in danger. We know many of the reasons why. And yet, our government is unable or unwilling to take even slight steps towards keeping this all-important pollinator safe. Granted, this story is about one bee-kill incidence, but it is highly indicative of what beekeepers all over the world are seeing. The stories are legion. At least the EU is attempting to move forward with temporary bans to evaluate the safety of the particular pesticide causing most of the problems. Hopefully, the U.S. will use their data in the future as they sure aren’t listening to anyone else except the chemical companies.

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Roosters & Bees

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Mr. Rooster ended up in the great compost heap in the sky.

My first flock had a rooster. I didn’t order one, but he ended up with the group of chicks I purchased from the local Blue Seal store. He was beautiful when grown. And noisy. He crowed pretty much every day at 4:30 a.m. And constantly throughout the day. Con-stant-ly. Not so great in a neighborhood. And he was mean. My biggest fear was he would escape and terrorize the neighbor kids like he terrorized my stepson. So, he ended up in the great compost heap in the sky. Sad, but since I wasn’t going to raise chicks (at least not at that point), there was no reason to keep him around.

With the six chicks my husband purchased from the Chichester Tractor Supply store this year, he purposely paid a little extra to ensure we had all females. We did not want a repeat of the last time. But I’m getting nervous. There’s a chicken whose facial features are a bit redder than the pink of the rest of the quintuplets. And she’s getting “jowels.” (I’m sure there’s a proper chicken anatomical name, but I don’t know what it would be.) So I’m getting nervous that she might be a he. I have not seen mounting behaviour yet or heard any attempted crowing, but they are still relatively young — about four months. So, here’s who I call “Red” and who might be a rooster and one of the quints for comparison:

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Red — See those jowels?

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One of the quints. More pink than red and no jowels.

Not a huge difference, so it just may be unique facial characteristics of Red. However, the rest of the quints, and Brownie, look like the young lady on the right. So I’m a little nervous. I really don’t want another visit to the chicken processer until I have meat birds (next year, I think). So Red bears watching. I hope I’m worried for nothing. I’d much rather have the eggs for now.

So, why are bees in the title? Well, if you recall, I was supposed to get a shipment of bees a few weeks ago. Because of weather issues, they did not arrive until this past Friday. Most excitement. They were very crowded in their nuc box. I picked them up on a Friday night and simply put the nuc box on the bottom board of the hive. Saturday, I moved them into a deep box with additional frames that had drawn comb on them. (Drawn comb means the frame has honey comb in it already, that has had the honey and pollen removed.) I topped it off with a top feeder. (Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of photos. I find it difficult to work the hive and manage a camera at the same time. I suck, I know!)

When I checked on them Sunday morning, I could tell they had been busily cleaning the comb up. Generally, you leave your new bees alone for a couple of weeks so they get settled, but I suspect these busy ladies will have that hive in perfect order this coming weekend. I will need to add food to the feeder and will take the opportunity to peek at their activities as well as take pictures. I’m hoping they will be far enough along I can put another box on the hive. I suspect they may be ready, because there were just so many bees in the nuc and the frames I gave them had comb so they didn’t have to work as hard getting everything ready for pollen,  nectar and brood (baby bees).

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The nuc box the bees arrived in. It held five frames.

Before I forget, I started a little photo blog on Tumblr. Check it out and add something if you like!

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What do you feed your chickens?

First, I have to say “Yeah!!! The sun is back!” Well for a little while at least. Gives me a great opportunity to air out the coop. And mow.

So, what do you feed your chickens? I’m not loyal to any particular brand — it depends on what store I’m at when I need it. Right now, it’s Blue Seal Egg Layer pellets. Other times, it’s Purina. I have not seen my birds showing a dislike for either brand. I supplement with uncooked vegetable and fruit scraps. I noticed my big girls do not like greens from the table and I’m not sure about the peepers yet. I have read of some people who feed their chickens all of their table scraps, but I tend to avoid that. And there are seriously hard-core folks who make their own chicken feed from scratch. I love my girls, but honestly, I just don’t have that level of commitment.

Of course, now the little dinos have all the fresh greens from the garden beds, and I will occasionally throw weeds in that I’ve pulled from the active garden space. Plus all the bugs and worms they can find. The more variety they get in their diet, the better their eggs are, both in flavor and nutrition.

Feeling a bit nostalgic today, so here are a couple of pics from my first flock for your enjoyment.

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And today’s soapbox is women’s health. I totally don’t get the movement that wants to remove government from all aspects of private life except women’s reproduction. It is irrelevant whether you think life begins at conception or two years after a child is born. Bottom line, women have the same right and expectation of bodily autonomy as men. Women are people and should be treated as such. And that most definitely includes her reproductive system. So, I’ve provided two links for your reading pleasure. The first discusses the harm to women these new forced-birth laws are having. The second is a full-on rant about how a certain form of reproductive treatment is under threat.

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Rain

Chickens in the brush

Chickens in the brush

There’s really not much more to say than that. We get a nice day, then overcast, then rain for a few days, followed by maybe half day overcast, nice day, overcast, rain… been this way for a little while now. So, here’s some nice news from the nice day we had.

We fenced in one of the other raised garden beds and made a very unelegant but functional path from where the girls are living to this other unused garden bed. And they love it! LOTS of green stuff. So we’ll have one more garden cleared and fertilized by the chickens. And there’s no milkweed there so I think the girls will take care of all of it.

We also have this year’s garden almost finished. Got most of the planting completed, although I do need the rototiller for the corn. It’s been so rainy we haven’t had a chance to take care of that. But the tomatoes, peas, carrots, potatoes, beets, and cucumbers are in. I added more to the asparagus beds so I should be able to harvest next year. Last items, besides the corn, are tomatillos, and some late sprouting gourds and pumpkins.  With a little luck, we’ll finish this weekend. Otherwise, I’m concerned it will be too late in the season.

Airing out the coop

Airing out the coop

I’m also seriously attempting companion planting for the first time this year. (I’ve tentatively tried it in the past.) Tomatoes and carrots are supposed to do well together. So I put the carrots in some of the tomato beds. When the corn goes in, I’ll add climber beans and pumpkins. I’m curious to see if it will help reduce the pest problem.

There were interesting critters in the yard this  weekend. I almost stepped on two different garden snakes! Sadly, they move so fast I was unable to take pictures. I did post photos of the toad and the bright red bird on the new “Backyard Critters” page. I’ll be adding photos of critters I see on that page over time.

Enjoying the new yard

Enjoying the new yard

Queen of the Roost

New queen of the roost!

In keeping with the environmental theme I started with my GMO comments, below is a couple of links about the Keystone XL (XL stands for extra large!) tar sands pipeline they want to build in the U.S. In my ever so humble opinion, we should not do this. I realize the goal of energy independence is crucial to the nation, however, had we not abandoned renewable energy research after Jimmy Carter left the White House, I daresay all this fuss about oil, tar sands, and fracking would be moot (and say what you will about President Carter — you may be right — but he did recognize true energy independence began with renewables and all the wonderful initiatives he started were abandoned by Reagan).

First, a video featuring Van Jones clips. I completely agree with the statements. My thoughts?

1) Van Jones is right. If President Obama believes so much in this pipeline, then he should name it after himself, or at the very least, have a big ceremony when it’s online. I mean, if it’s that critical, surely it warrants the attention and hoopla.

2) Of course Canada doesn’t want this in their backyard and are more than happy to move it through the U.S.!

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Beulah doesn’t want icky tar spoiling the corn fields!

3) And this is what gets me every time, dating back to the “drill baby drill” days. The oil, gas, tar, whatever, that is pulled out the ground in North America does not belong to us, either the U.S. citizens, or in the case of Keystone, the Canadians. It belongs to the companies that pull it out of the ground who then sell it on the worldwide open market.

This next link is to an explanation of what is in “tar sand.” It’s not pretty and why would we ever want that crap going through our farmlands? (Special thrill: Adam Sarvana from “Big Bang Theory” is the lab assistant in the video that is part of the article in the above link.)

So that’s my soapbox for this week. Enjoy!

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UNH School to Farm

University of New Hampshires holds an annual “School to Farm” event. Their website says it “is a statewide program working to connect NH farms and schools. Farm to school connections enable schools toSheep serve healthy, locally grown foods in their cafeterias, integrate farms, food, and nutrition into their curriculum, and explore food and agriculture-based learning opportunities.”

I helped present at the beekeeper station this past Tuesday, along with the Seacoast Beekeeper’s Association president, Jeff Salava. Kids went around from the blueberry station, to ours, to the sheep and wool station, and through several barns looking at animals. Each station was 15 minutes, so they move pretty quickly. Which is good, ’cause kids freak me out but I did so-so presenting. Jeff was much better. Hopefully, we reduced the fear a lot of kids have of bees.

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The weather has gotten very nice again. Not quite as warm as I’d like, but not as humid either. We’re finishing up planting the garden this week. Not too far behind in getting it ready. I’ll have pictures soon. Now, on to the girls…

I try to feed them veggie scraps when I can. I know some people feed their chickens every type of table scrap, but we confine our birds to veggie and fruits. Occasionally, I’ll buy bird seed as a special treat. I noticed the big girls don’t like a lot of the vegetables, but the little ones are still expanding their palate and seem to enjoy veggies and fruit a bit more.

Tomatos

Dirty Girl and Brownie eye-balling the last tomato scrap. See Winona in the lower right hand corner? She’s watching me watching them.

I gather eggs about every other day. Winona and Beulah are great layers. I currently get lovely brown and blue eggs. Can’t wait to see what Brownie and the Quints will make! With a little luck, I’ll be getting some eggs by early Fall.

Eggs

I’ll close with a link to an op-ed written by Stephen King. It’s a little old, but I read it for the first time earlier this week and it nicely captures what I think a lot of people miss when talking about taxes.

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