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There is a Bantam in my Laundry …

And she is laying eggs on my towel rack.

Pougal, my Old English Game bantam, and on of my very first chooks :)

Pougal, my Old English Game bantam, and on of my very first chooks 🙂

I left her there, it was really handy, and it wasn’t the actual towels we use, just those scruffy odds and ends of cleaning rags and toilet mats and things that accumulate. Plus, every time I saw her in there I’d laugh my head off, and I do love a good laugh.

Cheeky girl :D

Cheeky girl 😀

Have a happy day!

Ami 🙂

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Diary of a Hatching Chick – contains real hatching photos.

This morning, I was fortunate enough to have another chick hatch while I was holding it. It’s always a special time, the beginning of life – and sadly with chicks, very often it’s the end of life too. Birthing is always the cusp between life and death, which is one reason it is so sacred, I think. However, I also thought I might be able to share it with you, as I was sitting reeeallly close to my camera. 😀

This is how it looked when I took it out of my incubator. It had made the air hole, and started to open the shell (this takes thousands of teeny pecks by the chick to do, they are incredibly strong animals). Sometimes they seem to peck a trapdoor, and they tend to be slow hatching. Ones that do the flip-top shell thing like this one did can arrive in a big hurry. Perfect!

Once the shell is mostly pecked through, the chick starts pushing up with it’s head, to lever the top off.

You can see it’s wing poking out here…

Wing!

And now it’s made a big enough gap that it has a wing out, and it’s foot. MUCH more leverage this way. You can also see that in the shell, there’s not a lot of space left, and it grows for the last week or so with it’s head tucked under it’s wing.

Then, pop! Top comes off, and its head and neck start to straighten. It’s a really good idea to be as hands-off as possible. I do tend to pick mine up once they are at the flip-top stage, but only for a few reasons: my incubator has no humidity, I get around this by squirting the eggs a few times a day when I turn them. In the last 3 days before hatching the eggs need about 80% humidity to hatch, and I try to replicate this roughly by wrapping a warm wet tissue around the shell, but ONLY when the airhole is present, and I keep about 1/4 unwrapped to try not to change the tensile pressure of the shell. So, once it’s at the stage in the first photo, if I can I take off the tissue and hold it to keep it warm and humid. (plus, you know, baby!)

Another important point: chicks are designed to have to fight their way out of the egg. It’s hard to watch, but necessary. They have a complicated network of blood vessels, and the fighting to hatch closes these off. I have read of horror stories of people trying to help a chick hatch, only to pull off a piece of shell and have the chick bleed to death. Yuck. Poor chick, poor people. You can see a vessel here, on the chicks back. This was severed by it wiggling while in my hand, and obviously a shut down one, anyway. Hard as it is to watch, let them be. 🙂

blood vessel from the top of the shell to it’s back – this was fine, but its a VERY good idea to be as hands-off as possible. Lots of information on the net for the more curious 🙂

Then, out of the bottom of the shell with one big kick, and there it is, in my hand. Hello, chick!

 

Hello, world.

(Important! I didn’t have my hand open for the duration, keeping birds warm is VITAL. I was being an honarary hen, and keeping it in the warm and dark of my cupped hands until I took a quick photo.)

Back in the incubator to fluff up and warm up a bit more… which also makes them look cuter 😀

And after 20 mins or so… it’s silver! This is my first silver chick – not sure of it’s parentage, dad is Blue Orpington, mum may be Light Sussex, but I’m not completely sure.

Then, my patented ‘being a mother hen and still having a life’ trick – I tuck the end of a bandana down my top, and fold the rest up and over the chick. So chick is now tucked up against the skin of my throat, warm and dark, and I can use both hands.

I know, taking a photo like this is dorky, but it’s for a good cause, right? And I didn’t go get dressed up for ya all, so you’ll have to take me as I am 🙂

I make sure there is plenty of air for the chick though!

And then, once I’ve carted it around for a few hours it’s cute, strong, fluffy, steady on it’s legs and ready to go under the heat lamp in the box with my other chicks that have no mother hen. Of which I have 12 now. Holy Moly. *quiet panic attack*

Have a lovely day
Ami 🙂

Varieties of eggs my chickens lay…

Just for fun!

A half dozen eggs in a carton…

7 eggs in my egg collecting basket. The large brownest one is a Rhode Island Red egg.

Yesterdays egg haul

I have 4 green egg laying chickens now (no green pigs for ham, though). I love the subtle differences in colours for each of them – Brave, who was born last summer to Tyra and Fabio (so half mixed breed, half Hamburg) as a distinctly more olive hue.

See? Naomi lays the largest green eggs, and Tyra lays slightly bluer ones.

Then we have this Rhode Island Red and a Light Sussex egg – they’re a good size 6 and a half, smooth and light tan with a pinkish tinge. By the way, I do NOT have a terrible skin disease of the hands, I have been using PVA glue in the caravan – and it made a mess 😀

Here is Tyra’s blueish green egg, and the one next to it is Brianna – Karla (Hyline) cross Fabio (Hamburg). I’m VERY excited about this, because this is a good size egg, not quite the size of a normal Hyline / Shaver egg but close, and she’s a much healthier bird. So crossing them can work! yay! Can’t wait to see a Hyline cross Orpington chicken…

 

And these two – the round, super white egg is from Bill, our Blue Andalusian. I’m not sure who has laid the long and pointy one, but it made me laugh :D. I know if I was laying eggs every day I’d prefer them to be this shape!

Have a great day!

 

 

My Chicken Coops: be dazzled by their beauty.

When I started thinking about having chickens (oooh, about 10 months ago now), I worried about their shelter. On the internet, all you see is sites for ‘free chicken coop plans’ – before you know it, you’re being asked to shell out $100 for plans, and worrying that your chicken coop will block all the sunlight to your house. Seriously, some of those plans out there are amazing. But very, very expensive. Oh, if I had the money and the skills my chickens would have the cutest little cottages etc etc, but no, no, they’re slumming it here.

Slumming it with Big Daddy. The Horror!

This is my chicken coop. I built it from a old wooden packing crate (shipping crate), one big off-cut of square wood post, and two road signs. (No road signs were stolen in making my Coops of Squalor. They were all legally acquired,and out-of-date signage (eg wood, not metal). I cut a hole in the side for their entrance, the ramp is a scrap of ugly wood with kindling nailed to it (they need it for grip). The road sign doors just sit alongside the wood, and are held in place by nails to stop them falling out. This means I can take the whole side off to clean it.

Nails: easier than runners!

Because chickens prefer to roost high, I’ve got it on top of an old chest freezer which also doubles as a rain shelter. Mr Husband Man painted it black, “to make it less ugly”. Mmmmm.

This is my husbands coop (we’re not competitive. Honest.) – he spent much more time and money on this, and it looks much cooler. Trouble is – its a pain in the backside to clean, as you have to lean right into it to get the straw out of the middle. NOT so much fun. He made the box himself, and it is on four legs to raise it off the ground. The back flap is hinged at the bottom, and he has used an old axe handle as the lever to hold it in place when it’s up.

Underneath are two nesting boxes – basically a funny old kitchen sliding cupboard thing, rip the doors off, straw in the bottom – I have put old clear corrogated plastic on top as an awning to protect the chickens from the rain.

 

The shed is one of those aluminium garden sheds you pay large amounts of money for, but can never move because it falls apart. We dragged this through (which is why you can see sunlight through the corners), Mr Man built shelves out of planks of wood, and supported them with large buckets. Tech. It works, they sleep in there when it’s cold, and lay under the shelves. We’ll rig up a second shelf level at some point, with a ramp.

 

Can you see the theme? Basically, if you have a box, put a waterproof lid on it, access to clean it, put straw  in it, raise it up off the ground, add cheap-and-nasty ramp, and you’re done! You can go fancy, yes. But you don’t HAVE to. My chickens like to roost in trees, some sleep in the boxes, some don’t. They’ve been fine through some pretty nasty weather – when it snowed (which it almost never does here!) we would go out and grab them out of the trees, and put them in the boxes. If you have severely cold weather you will need to think about insulating, and possibly confining them to a coop plus run arrangement during the worst of the weather, so you don’t have to go tree climbing every night. For straw, barley straw is just about perfect, as you just throw the old stuff straight on the garden as manure/mulch. Mine prefer hay, but that can’t go on the garden unless you want to be mowing your garden in a few months time. Warning:chickens find the SNEAKIEST places to lay their eggs.

NB: highly technical shelf supports: buckets.

 

We don’t have many bigger predators here – dogs, cats, ferrets, rats – but mine are still fenced pretty well, though I let them free range for half of every day. Chicken fencing.. well, mine is ugly. See?

But the floppiness of the wire is what stops the chooks from flying up and onto the fence, then over. Mr Man makes cat-bum faces at my DIY fencing, coops,etc etc. But they’re  free,practical, and they work. Mr Man also isn’t the one who was constantly cleaning chook poop out of the house prior to getting the fence set up, so he can just not look, I figure. 🙂
By the house I have their water bowls and grit bowl – chickens are BIG drinkers – approx 1 litre of water per bird per day apparantly – so keeping that topped up and clean is a biggie. Hence the pipe – there used to be a fence there, and there will be again, so we can just pop out of the house and pour water down the pipe, rather than trekking around to fill it up. The hose isn’t connected, but it’s vital – the boys play with that while I clean the chooks.
So I think that’s that, any thing else anyone wants to see? I bet you all feel better about your backyards now. No charge! 😀

My Flocking Chickens

Well, they are chickens, and chickens flock. Got your attention though, right? 🙂

Spangled Pekin - Puff and some of her five peeps.

At time of writing, I have 52 chickens. I can honestly, hand on my heart, tell you I didn’t mean for that to happen. And most of them are very little chickens indeed! The breakdown goes something like this: I have one hen with one little chick, one with six half grown almost teenager chicks, one hen in one hutch with two babies, and one pekin hen in another hutch with five babies. So, you can see, quite a lot of my flock are made up of babies. I also have some that are not quite big enough to be accurately gendered (I refused to write ‘sexed’, although thats the proper word. I know about the minds of some people out there…) and rehomed. I would LIKE about 30 – and most of them Orpington chickens and crosses, with some mixes for variety. At the moment I have 3 Gold Spangled Hamburgs, 6 Orpingtons, 4 x Arucana crosses (three lay green eggs), 2 Light Sussex, 2 Spangled Pekin bantams, 2 Old English Game bantam, 2 Hylines, 10 Orp x Arucana’s, 1 Blue Andalusian, and a whole bunch of moggie chickens (I call them Backyardigans – people call them Backyard Chickens, eg mixed breeds and I have small children so was accidentally and traumatically exposed to the Backyardigan kids tv show. It’s scarred me.)

Here’s a photo of some of my bunch at feeding time:

I like my chicken garden – the colours and variety of the different breeds. But I have to be a bit more realistic about what I want them for, and get the numbers down to something manageable. I want chickens primarily for eggs- check out this lot!

Sadly, most of my hens went broody and so now I am lucky to get 3 eggs a day. THREE. From 52 chickens. So, again, back to getting something that is a good layer, reliable, hopefully won’t triple-brood in a season and could be eaten if we ever get staunch enough to do that. Practicality! So, the Hamburgs and crosses have to go, and I probably won’t be getting any more Hylines. I love my Hyline girls (they’re very similar to Brown Shavers, but a different corporation ‘created’ them.). Mine have all been bought as seconds, really, after the battery farms are done with them, and they are a pitiful sad sight indeed, and have to learn to be chickens. I love giving them a good home, letting them do chicken things. BUT I find it really ethically tricky – here’s a breed created to lay an egg a day for their first laying year, then die, basically. Many go on to have long lives, but many don’t. Half of mine have died through becoming eggbound – that and prolapses are incredibly common- and I hate that. I also don’t like the fact that they are bred to be a different colour depending on gender – boys are white, and the girls are yellow at hatching. as that way the boys can be killed instantly. Personally I find that really horrible – I would far rather let a rooster grown to adulthood, give it a great life and a painless death and eat and appreciate it, then kill a baby and have a chicken nugget. This is completely my own opinion, but a big reason behind why I don’t want more Hylines! I am hoping to cross my hyline girls out to my rooster, though, to get hopefully healthier happier birds that still lay quite well. Hylines don’t tend to go broody, so I put eggs under a broody or in my incubator, and that’s worked.

Anyway! Those are my guys and girls, and I like them all. They’re quirky, curious, amusing and hardworking birds.

Oh yeah, working hard.

They sort my scraps, are a first step in my composting, add manure and barley straw to my gardens, weed everything (by the way, putting a layer of chicken wire fencing on the garden then planting through that really does help. They can’t scruff out your plants then, though they try, and any mulch on top goes flying). They make my day with their antics, and make my blood pressure skyrocket if they get in the house. I cry when they die, and can lose track of time just watching them sometimes. They make me feel more secure – they represent food in the form of meat and eggs – so if we’re stranded out here by a zombie apocalypse or meteor strike,I think we’ll be fine. I even like my roosters – I only keep ones that are nice to their hens, and they definitely help keep the girls calm, and stop a lot of squabbling and pecking. Chickens rock!