Category Archives: Chickens

Grey Winter Days

Not My Favorite Color

Grey winter days can be challenging. I hate grey. It doesn’t matter if it is the color of a comfy pair of corduroy pants, grey depresses me. Grey skies that go on for days at a time, coupled with extreme cold that keeps me in the house, will eventually drag me down.

For this whole first week of January, not only has it been grey, but the night time temperatures have been down in the single digits, as low as -1 degree Fahrenheit yesterday. During the day it has been hovering in the teens. One day there were winds gusting to 40 MPH from a storm the weather people were calling “the Bomb” which dumped snow all along the East coast. It brought snow to Florida and Georgia, with Charleston, South Carolina getting a foot. We only got about 2 inches of the (at least pretty) white stuff, mostly we just got grey.

Out in the Barn-Chickens

It is amazing to me that my chickens do not seem too bothered by this cold. They have heated water buckets, and I spread hay for dry bedding, but still. I feel my nose hairs freeze as soon as I walk outside to do chores and I have to breathe through my fleece collar. When I open the barn door, the younger chickens are all spread out like a down filled, 84 piece, patchwork quilt.

Live Feathered Quilt

They are all talking up a storm as I wade through them and refill their feeders.  Barred Rocks, Araucanas, Buff Orpingtons and Golden Comets all scramble  over each other as I toss some yummy 5 grain scratch on the floor. Then all grows quiet as they work on scarfing it all down. The pan of sprouted wheat and barley I give the laying hens disappears faster than water drops on a hot griddle.

The chickens prefer the long pulls of water they can get from open water, but the one-gallon plastic ice cream buckets quickly freeze solid. The heated waterers have little metal nipples the chickens have to press in with their beaks and they only get a drop or two at a time. Water is better than ice at washing down breakfast though, and the clicking sound of beaks hitting nipple waterers tells me they are drinking.

A Natural Type Horse

My horse, Mara, comes and goes in the barn as she pleases. Her meals of hay and grain are served there, and she has her own heated water bucket, but she mostly prefers to be outside. Her favorite spot is out back with her butt parked up against a big multiflora rose bush.

Mara Near Her Bush

The morning sun, if there is any, can reach her there and the bush blocks the west wind. She grows a thick coat of fur every winter which does a good job keeping her warm. The only time I lock her in the barn is during  ice storms or when we are expecting rain and then a quick deep freeze. There have only been a few times when she stupidly stood outside in the rain, right before a cold wind storm, and I needed to dry her off with a towel so she would not get cold. Usually she regulates herself fairly well, moving naturally between the shade of trees and the sunny open pasture.

I have seen Facebook posts declaring it cruel to not put winter coats on horses. That is ridiculous and must be coming from people who have no actual experience tending livestock. A horse blanket, or coat, prevents a horse from growing a good natural coat of fur and can do more harm than good. Imagine what it would feel like to wear a soggy, wet coat outside in the winter. Supplying a run in shed where your horse can stay dry and out of the wind is what works.

I can see using a fresh, dry blanket to warm them if they occasionally manage to get wet just before a sudden temperature drop. In that case you need to rub them down, dry them off, and get them warmed up quickly. That is why you have to sometimes lock them in the barn until the wet stuff stops falling. I don’t think a blanket should be substituted for shelter.

My horse will occasionally stand outside and get covered in snow just to see if I care, I think. She knows I will go out and brush her off and give her extra hay in the nice, dry barn if I see her at risk of getting cold. She does not like to be locked up in the barn though, so unless it is really bad outside, I let her decide. Last year when we had 42 inches of snow all at once, I locked her up, and the snow sliding off the roof created walls on the open south side. I had already stapled plastic up on the east side, because the storm was blowing in from that direction, so the extra snow wall made it nice and snug in there. Usually our winter weather comes in from the  northwest and the barn has solid wood walls on those sides.

White Snow v. Grey Skies

The bad thing about a deep, deep, snowfall is worrying about the weight of all that snow on the roof. A wet snow can be really heavy and could collapse the barn, or the house. I keep a ladder out by the barn so I can get up on the roof and shovel it off if I have to. In the last twenty five years, I have only had to do that twice, but I slept better knowing the barn would not crush the critters overnight. So far this winter we have not had a substantial snow, but we have a ways to go yet.

Light Snow

Today, it is not only a dreary grey, they are calling for freezing rain. The temperature has gone all the way up to 26 degrees F and would probably feel almost balmy, if the sun was out. So I am inside, by the woodstove, doing inside things like cooking, writing, and drinking hot tea. It is not windy and I am starting to see a few snow flurries, which would be way better than freezing rain. Maybe we will have a fresh layer of bright, white snow and the sun will come out tomorrow highlighting a clear blue sky. Here’s hoping.

-Wendy lee, writing at Edgewise Woods Gardens and Critters

 

Foxes, Chickens, Dogs and Veggies

Blue Ridge Cabin in Springtime Fog

It can be hard to find time for all the springtime chores and harder yet to write about it, especially when the weather and my thoughts turn foggy and gray for days on end. I am much more productive when the sun is shining.

Wild Critters v Chickens

Our resident Mama Fox has six babies this spring, and they are more than the usual degree of hungry. She usually only takes about three chickens each spring before the babies learn how to hunt on their own, but we have lost seven hens, a duck and my rooster, who I have had for many years. He was such a good boy. The hens don’t seem to miss him but I do.

Baby Foxes
Baby Fox

The electric fence around the chicken pasture works great as long as there is no long grass zapping it’s energy away. It also helps to remember to plug it back in after clearing the grass off the bottom. The fox was able to dig under the fence because it was not plugged in. My fault. I feel so guilty when I fail to protect my flock.

Electric Fence for Hens

Meanwhile, I am feeding the fox kits cat food over by their den in an attempt to stave off their hunger and hopefully prevent more chicken losses. The babies roll around and tussle with each other just like puppies and are fun to watch. I just hope they learn how to eat rabbits and mice soon.

Baby Fox
Who Me? Eat Chickens?

Yesterday I was finally getting around to cutting down the last dried Miscanthus grass and discovered a bird nest with five eggs in it. I had to prop the cut grass back up to protect it. The eggs were blue with brown speckles. I walked close later when I did chores and the mama was back on the nest but I did not get a good view and am not sure what kind of bird it is yet. I was glad she came back though.

Divided Hostas and Miscanthus

I managed to divide two of my Big Blue Hostas and the other giant Miscanthus grass recently and potted them up with compost from last years barn cleaning. Two Hostas yielded 12 extra plants which I can trade.

The Veggie Garden

The week of April 15, it was still getting down in the 30’s (F) and 40’s at night, but getting up in the 70’s and 80’s during the day. Frost was still possible, so tender plants needed the protection of the hoop house .

Little Hoophouse

 

I worked some compost into the beds and sowed tomatoes, basil, cauliflower,  lettuce, and peppers for transplanting out later. After covering them with a protective layer of cloth (a recycled wedding runner) I watered them in. The hoop house is open on both ends but I attached some cloth near the bottom to keep a little wind out.

My grandson got the tiller working again (rusty magneto) so I finally planted potatoes April 17th. I usually try to plant them around St Patricks Day in March but we had snow that week. I planted 6 short rows of Yukon Golds and Norland Reds leftover from last years bumper crop where I had buckwheat last year. This plot is outside the garden fence but deer don’t like potatoes, so it should be OK.  They are up as of April 26th.

A few days later,I planted two rows of pole beans along the insides, figuring on removing the plastic after frost danger, allowing the vines to climb all over the frame. The tomatoes and cauliflower are all up as of April 26th.

Remay Over Corn

The ground was a still little  cool for planting corn April 18th, so I covered the whole area with Remay cloth to help warm it and also to keep the crows from eating the sprouting seeds.

We are eating a little asparagus from the bed I planted last year along the fence and we are still eating the Kale that overwintered really well. The garlic that was planted last fall is also doing well.

Wintered Over Garlic and Kale

If the blossoms on the blueberries and strawberries all turn into fruit we will have a great crop. Last year frost damaged the blooms and we did not get as much as usual. I actually had to buy 🙁 some frozen strawberries this winter for Jeff’s morning protein shakes.

 New Dog Fence

After finally cleaning out the front barn, I set up a new solar powered, electric, woven fence for visiting dogs to play in. I ordered the 160 feet of poultry netting, the 10 watt solar panel, a 12 volt, 18 amp hour battery and the Hotshock charger ( uses either 110V or 12 volts) from Premier 1Supplies. I recommend this company. They answer all kinds of questions via chat so you can figure out your best plan, such as,  how big of a solar panel and what kind of battery are needed for your job.

Solar Fence Charger

I am using a ladder as the people access until I make a real gate. I take care of other peoples critters  and bringing the dogs home with me can make it easier to give them outside time. They are safely away from the chickens and have shady trees, grass,  sun and barn space.

Ladder as People Door

Spring is one of my favorite times of the year but there is so much to do before the hot weather sets in. In the meantime, it is gorgeous just walking around the yard and enjoying the flowers.

Phlox divaricata
Tree Peony

On the long rainy days, I must remember the lush green growth and flowers that will emerge because of the dreary days.

Fog on the Blue Ridge

 

 

Wendy lee Maddox, writing at Edgewise woods, Gardens and Critters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building Fences and Gates

Building Fences and Gates

School’s out for the summer and I have managed to borrow my grandson to help me with some farm chores. We are repairing and building fences and gates. Yea!

Project One- Back Pasture Gate

First job we tackled was replacing the rotted gate post to the pasture out back. I had been propping it up with an angled t-post for awhile and it was getting ridiculous. Every time I opened the gate to drive the truck through, I had to pick it up and carefully maneuver it around . We had a nice fat Cedar post waiting around just for this gate and the two of us got her done.

Some of the Fence Tools
Some of the Fence Tools

Of course, it was not a simple one step job. They never are. It was also a lesson in tools. First we had to clean up the fence line, digging out honeysuckle vines, pruning back the lilac bushes, limbing up the Leyland Cypress, and then we had to bundle all the brush up and drag it  to the burn pile.  Then we had to pry out old staples, and set the electric fence off to the side. Next, we dug the hole with the scissor type post hole diggers, set the new post in and tamped it down with the six foot tamping iron/ digging bar. Then we drilled two big holes- to screw the hinge pins into- with the half inch drill and a long extension cord. Finally we nailed up a board for bracing, re-stretched and stapled the woven wire to the post and hung the gate.

Long Handled Fence Stretcher
Long Handled Fence Stretcher

Oh, and then we added some insulators and replaced the electric fence attached to it. Whew. It’s gorgeous and the gate now swings freely on it’s hinges.

Rehung the 12 Foot Gate
Rehung the 12 Foot Gate

Project Two- Front Paddock Fence and Gate

Next for the little paddock fence out front, a corner of which is also the bee yard. This area was originally a cut flower garden and the fence consisted of two foot rabbit wire with a couple strands of smooth electric wire later added on top to keep the horse in.  The marauding herds of deer have since beaten it down. We had to first prune back a forsythia hedge to expose and then remove all the rusted wire. Jeff worked on that awhile and then my grandson finished it. It is kind of fitting that he is wearing his FFA (Future Farmers Of America) shirt while doing this work.

New Woven Wire
New Woven Wire

We set in eleven more fence posts ( Blayne did most of the work) and strung four foot high woven wire  for this paddock. There was already a working truck gate but I wanted a people gate by the bees, so we built a four foot wide wooden gate in the garage and brought it out when the wire was done.

Building the Bee Yard Gate
Building the Bee Yard Gate
Hanging the Bee Yard Gate
Hanging the Bee Yard Gate

The finished fence makes me happy. I love getting these projects crossed off the list. Some jobs require help, and this is one of them. I am appreciating my grandson and his willingness to work. Plus, he is getting experience with saws and drills and all sorts of fence building tools.

Project Three-Chicken House Again

In the interior of the barn there is a very sheltered area that expands the chicken space, especially useful in bad weather. It is handy to have when I need to separate different groups of chickens, and right now, with so many chickens, we need the extra room. The wall I used to have was thrown together from scraps and not very user friendly so I tore it down recently while I was cleaning the barn. Yesterday we  built a hinged people door and a chicken wire wall  and we will add some nest boxes and roosting poles tomorrow. Oh. And a swing for the chickens to play on. There is already a little chicken door that can join it to the main covered run.

New Inside Chicken Gated
New Inside Chicken Gated

I am having so much fun with all these projects. Eventually, I suppose I will be caught up and will have to find some paying work but I am trying not to think about that too much. For now, I am enjoying my grandson and my critters.

Pastured Chickens
Pastured Chickens

-Wendy lee, writing at edgewisewoods.com

New Chicks, New Pen

New Chicks, New Pen

The  day old chicks I ordered from Mt Healthy Hatchery  were mailed April 4th  and I was ready for them.  I had ordered 25 Araucanas (the ones that lay blue/green eggs) and 25 Golden Comet (for big brown eggs) pullets to supplement my old laying hens  and they are including 25 free heavy breed roosters.

25 Each of Golden Comet and Aracauna Pullets, Plus 25 Buff Orpington Roosters
25 Each of Golden Comet and Aracauna Pullets, Plus 25 Buff Orpington Roosters

I figure I may as well grow my own chicken to eat. It is bound to be healthier than store bought.

A couple of weeks in advance I set up the two small bitty pens I use out in the barn with brooder lamps, waterers and feeders and fresh hay on the wire floors. When the bitties arrived I split them into two groups, each with a Mama lightbulb. It was still getting below freezing at night so I stapled plastic up partway on the sides and opened it some on warmer days.

Second Bittie Box
Second Bittie Box
Tight Quarters With Mama Lightbulb
Tight Quarters With Mama Lightbulb

Then I started working on the rest of the barn. I had to tear off the 6 mil plastic I had stapled up for snowstorm Jonas this winter. It really helped to keep the wind and snow out of the barn and Mara and the chickens were much warmer and dryer than they would have been without it.

Barn with new plastic wind guard
Barn with new plastic wind guard

This photo was earlier this winter after the Jonas storm.

A couple of years ago I built a new metal roof over my chicken pen with three clear panels for sunlight. I was supposed to finish the job by taking down the outside chicken wire wall and ceiling and instead extending the wire all the way up to the roof. The roof was originally eight feet tall and made of flat chicken wire. Since I now have some time at home, being unemployed since January, I am finally going to complete this job.

Happy Chickens with plastic windbreak
Happy Chickens with plastic windbreak- Old pen

At the same time, I also needed to do the entire spring barn cleaning   and haul the mostly composted chicken manure to the garden.

Hauling Out the Chicken Compost
Hauling Out the Chicken Compost

It  has always been a little difficult to get to the inside of the chicken house because the doors into the yard and the door into the interior roost are both narrow. I remedied this by demolishing a wall between the chickens and a storage room, which has a nice big door. I turned this added space into new roosting, feeding and laying quarters for the laying hens.

New Roost for Layers
New Roost for Layers

I recently bought and set up two 160 foot rolls of electric poultry netting from Premier so my hens would be safe from our outrageous foxes when I am not here to watch them.

Woven, Electric Chicken/ Fox Fence
Woven, Electric Chicken/ Fox Fence
320 Feet of Electric Poultry Fence
320 Feet of Electric Poultry Fence

I had also cut them a little chicken door to get outside. All of this was dirty work and required a mask.

Dust Mask
Dust Mask

So, after the laying hens were all re-situated, I tore down all the old wire, pulling out each and every staple and piling up any reusable wood.

Salvedge Pile for Chicken Pen
Salvage Pile for Chicken Pen

I had saved some super heavy duty, expanded metal mesh from some old greenhouse bench tops to use on the lower half of the new run. The upper portion of wire is heavy gauge, green painted, tennis court wire which I salvaged from a garden client many years ago. It was old when I got it, having been used to fence in a wooden floored tennis court that I think may have been made in the 1950’s. It is still going strong. I have  also been using some green painted lumber from that same tennis court, along with two doors.

I built a travois looking roost in the new pen.

New Roosting Poles
New Roosting Poles

It took me about three days just to do the demo and cleanup, then another three to build it back. It looks so much better now and I built  a cleanout door into the covered run as well, so it will be easier to clean next time.

New Chicken Pen
New Chicken Pen

The chicks are three weeks old in this photo and have just been moved into the big pen from their little cages. They still have Mama lightbulb and a nest box though.

Morning Sun in the Bittie Run
Morning Sun in the Bittie Run

And yes, I finally broke down and brought home three baby ducks from the feed store too. I resisted for years.

Sun Glow Duckling
Sun Glow Duckling
four weeks old
four weeks old

All the babies are growing, although I am now in the process of dealing with a rat problem that I did not realize I had. I also had no idea that a rat would eat a baby chick. Now I know and things are getting buttoned up even tighter in the barn. It has never seen such cleaning. I am now digging up the dirt floors in the main part of the barn and redoing all that as well. When I get done, it will all be good. This is one of those jobs that had been put off for all those years I was working too hard for somebody else. Now, it gets done right.

-Wendy lee, writing at Edgewisewoods