Winter Recap and Chicken Catharsis

We took on 150 new chicks in October. As summer ended we were taking a look at where we would like to grow and one "no brainer" was eggs. Eggs have been our ambassadors here in our opening years, spreading the word about quality and local flavor. We have two stores interested in the product so we feel good about being able to move all those eggs.

You would think that keeping chickens would be fairly straight forward. I guess it is, for the most part. It has been startling, however, to find how things with these birds have not gone according to plan, at all. We basically have had about three trouble free weeks with these birds since they arrived. Ahhh, those wonderful days when they were only little three week old peepers.

So this is October, remember that. I am in school full time, it is getting colder, and we have about 6 months until green grass and bugs to chase and eat. But, getting the little chicks in October means that in the spring, as the days get longer, they will hit the 5 -6 month range and start to lay their eggs. Should work out great!

New Hens A Couple Days Old

Just about the time that November is cranking up it dawns on me that these little birds do not yet have a winter home. *&@#!! Better get on that, time to build the Pasture Palace. The superbly built, versatile, cozy home on the range for these birds and the eggs they will lay for you and yours. Materials... check. Design.... check. Time set aside to build..... sort of. Proper skills and tools...... anyway the design was great and I found a trailer to mount it on so we would be ready to rotate through the pastures.

Pasture Palace Frame

So you know those cartoons where a snow ball starts at the top of a hill and by the time it gets to the bottom it has collected all kinds of things inside. Not the best metafore to use here but the one that keeps popping up when I think of our winter with these birds. One problem after another as winter rolled on.

First they started piling on each other at night resulting in some getting smothered to death underneath. Next came the AMAZING wind storm that BLEW THE PALACE OFF THE TRAILER! WE woke up to find it propped on one corner at a rather steep angle (sorry no photo documentation on that one) . That resulted in a huge pile of birds in the lowest corner of the off kilter palace.... 17 dead. Then came the "it is winter and we are board out of our mind so we will peck each other's tail feathers off as they emerge" phase. Each bloody tail feather stump would lead to more pecking which, if you know anything about chickens, can get out of control and turn cannibalistic. The answer: pine tar applied to the tail feather area.... one bloody bird at a time. Remember the snowball?

At this point we have lost about 30 birds. We are doing normal chores everyday, shoveling their "yard" so they can go out and get space and air, tarring feathers daily, and trying to find things for them to peck (suet, dirt, compost) so they will peck each other less. Then we start to realize that we are missing some birds.... the reason we know is that the birds we are missing are some of the roosters we got with the hens. Where did they go? We have not found dead birds. They can not fly away.Huh???

It is now late January, the snow is deep but now hard on top. Easy for certain critters to travel over the top. Critters like.... fox. We figure he got about 10 birds in all before we caught on to his routine. (About 3:30 travel around behind the house, down around the cows, up through the woods, and then over to the coop.) I have never shot at a wild animal before this fox. I shot at him twice with the wrong weapon and from too far away. Needless to say I did not hit him, I did seem to scare him away though and he knows we are on to him. That plus another layer of fence and we seems to have solved that problem. Now we are down to a little over 100 birds. Remember we started with 150.... you ever seen money burn?

So catharsis. This weekend I was able to finally "muck out" the palace. It had accumulated about a foot of bedding as we had not been able to deal with it until the recent "warm up". The bedding was so deep (necessary to keep the birds dry and clean) that getting in and out of the structure to do chores was becoming difficult. Got a nice little reminder twice a day for weeks about how overdue that chore was.

The Clean Palace

The Carnage

Compost Food

The palace is now clean, "mucked out" clean that is, the fox has not made an appearance in over a week, we seem to be holding the tail feather eating at bay, and we got our first eggs yesterday. Come on spring!