Tree Fungus - Photo Essay

During a spring walk in the woods, we found this spectacular cherry tree full of fungus...very cool!

New Brooder for Baby Chicks

The last time we raised day-old chicks, we got the babies later in the season. They were able to go outside and enjoy warm weather fairly early in their lives. This time, we got our chicks at the beginning of March which means that we'll soon have finicky April weather to deal with. The reality is that our chicks may have to spend much of their second month of life indoors.

So, we built a bigger brooder/coop with the long-term in mind. We combined purposes!

We started with coop plans from Building Chicken Coops for Dummies and adapted them. We were lucky because we were able to keep costs down by using the last of our scrap wood. For the brooder stage we lined the walls with plastic chicken mesh and brown paper to keep in the heat and keep out our curious indoor cats. We used the cover we built for the plastic tub brooder as a door. We lined the wood floor with newspaper and then covered it with wood chips.

We plan for this brooder/coop to stay in place until the babies can go outside permanently. At that point, we'll take the coop outside, give it wood walls and elevate it off the ground. It will; hopefully, be used as a "junior" coop until the babies can join our existing flock. After that, we'll keep it as an isolation coop should it be needed.

Construction is under way.

We've moved the brooder/coop inside and added a roof, paper on the sides and clean bedding.

With the front door on, the brooder light hooked up and a perching branch installed, the chicks are exploring their new home.

The door's closed and everyone is cozy!

Chick Pics of the Day

At almost three weeks of age, the chicks are feathering out nicely. Take a look below...

New Nest Boxes

With so much emphasis on the new chicks, you'd think our laying hens would get the short end of the stick. But not at our house. We still love to go outside and visit with them and they still get almost daily treats. Although I don't think they'd really mind if we didn't visit as much. They've been enjoying our unseasonably warm weather and spent most of yesterday dust bathing in my garden; which is soon going to have to be fenced off so I can start growing veggies and herbs.

With the longer days of Spring, it became apparent that our laying hens needed new nest boxes. (Egg production is based on light, so Spring is when production increases.) We purchased "Building Chicken Coops for Dummies" and used some of the ideas from the book to make new nest boxes. The nice thing is they cost us nothing since we used leftover scrap pieces we already had. We made three boxes and will probably add a fourth or fifth once the new chicks get up and running.

If you're thinking of making nest boxes, or buying them, don't forget the rule of 3 to 5 chickens per box. My tip for the boxes is to make sure to fill them with lots of comfortable bedding, it really helps to keep the eggs clean. Also, don't forget to put a few plastic eggs into the new boxes to encourage the ladies to use them.

Baby Faces

The chicks love mugging for the camera. I couldn't resist these faces. I hope you like them too!

Exploring Hands

The chicks have been having fun exploring my husband's hand. They love to climb up his arm and then fly into the flock. It makes everyone scatter and chirp. It's great fun for them, and for us. In the pictures below, the Light Brahma is the one perching. She's always the first one to jump on our hands and really doesn't want to leave. I think she's going to like being held as she grows up! In the last picture, the two chicks looking up are a Brown Leghorn (front) and a Speckled Sussex (back). Very pretty chicks!

The Daily Perch!

Introducing our two perchers...

Light Brahma chick perching with a Buff Orpington looking at her.

A New Hampshire chick happily perching with the same Buff Orpington watching.
It's just a guess, but I think the Buff Orpington will be next!

We Moved!

On their one week birthday, or should we say hatching day, the chicks officially moved to their bigger brooder. They had started attempting to fly and showing signs they wanted to perch, so I thought it best to give them more room to spread out and practice their new skills.

The whole process was actually pretty easy and not very expensive. I went to the store and found a huge plastic storage container on sale. My husband and kids built a wire lid and we were up and running! We filled the new brooder with fresh bedding and even made the chicks a small roosting bar.

There was a lot of peeping as the chicks were transferred one-by-one into their new home. But, once there, they settled in nicely. The Light Brahma chick, who loves to climb on my hand and try to perch, immediately took to the new wooden perch. She loves to sit there and watch all her peers run around below her. The Speckled Sussex chick has been seen flying all the way up (maybe 6 inches) to the top of the perch supports. And, the Brown Leghorn chicks love to fly the length of the brooder.

It's amazing how fast the chicks are growing. I remember being totally unprepared for this super-fast growth the first time we got chicks. This time around, I'm prepared, but still amazed!

Chick Pic of the Day

A curious New Hampshire chick.

Oh Baby Baby!

I know baby humans grow fast, but baby chicks grow even faster! We've had them since Sunday and the changes since then have been incredible. Sometimes it looks like they've grown overnight; in fact, I think they have. Already they all have their first wing feathers, a few have their first tail feathers coming in and all of them are looking less fluffy and more sleek.

You can see the newly emerged wing feathers and tail feathers.

We've been trying not to stress out the chicks and hold them too much. So, we've been putting our hands into the brooder with some food crumbles on our palms. The chicks love to climb on our hands and peck at the food. Some of the chicks are really adventurous and they try to climb up your arm to perch. One of our New Hampshire chicks actually climbed into my palm, stretched out its wing and leg and curled up to sleep.

Our hands provide food and a place to perch.

Although they're young, the chicks have their adult instincts. It's hilarious to watch tiny chicks scratch and peck around their brooder! They'll even scratch and peck when visiting your hand.

We lowered our brooder temperature to around 90 degrees. The babies seemed a little hot when the temperature was higher. Immediately they were much more active and not hugging the sides of the brooder. It's one of those things where even though the guidelines call for them to have a higher temperature, it best to watch your chicks and follow your instincts within reason.

A Snapping Turtle Visitor

I guess you never know when a snapping turtle is going to stop by for a visit. The flock was certainly curious. I was excited to see this magnificent snapping turtle, but a little fearful. Snapping turtles are great, but better left alone.

We have ponds around us, but not on our property. I assume this turtle was just on his/her way to another pond, but the chickens had never seen a snapping turtle (and probably never will again!).

Snapping turtles aren't traditional chicken predators, but they can do a lot of damage as curious chickens get near. Luckily, the flock was in its fenced run and couldn't get near the snapping turtle.

I didn't want to take chances though, so after lots of encouragement, the snapping turtle decided to double-back and leave the chickens alone.

A Death in the Flock

Everyone says this is normal when working with chickens, especially babies, but I'm really upset. We had a baby chick die tonight. It was all so surreal. When I left to volunteer at my daughter's school, everything was fine. I came home and took my camera to the brooder to get some pictures and found one of our "squirrel" striped chicks just laying there. (We call them squirrels because at this point we can't tell them apart. I know the hatchery lady told us who they all were, but it just didn't sink in.) Anyway, we immediately separated the chick and put her under her own light with food and water, but I just had a bad feeling. The chick didn't look good at all, especially since her nictitating membrane was closed over her eyes. At first she drank a little for me, but that was it. In a matter of hours, she was dead.

My kids have taken this better than me. We explained to them that this is a fact of farm life. You do the best you can, but sometimes our animals just have to go to heaven.

On my end, I worry that I did something wrong. And, I worry that the chick had some communicable disease and all the rest will catch it.

So, here's to our beautiful chick. May she rest in peace. Here's to the rest of the babies. May they stay well. And, here's to a happier post for tomorrow's Wildlife Wednesday.

Our Baby Chicks Are Here!

Our baby chicks have arrived! As a group effort, we picked up the chicks at our local hatchery yesterday; grandma and grandpa even came to greet the new arrivals.

After giving the hatchery staff our name, we all stood at the door with faces plastered against the window in anticipation. Through the window, we could see all the workers putting brown eggs onto trays that went into big stainless steel tiered carts. And then, through all the commotion, came a nice young lady with our box.

Our first look at the new chicks; cozy in their box for the ride home.

I have to say, the first thing we noticed was how cute the chicks were. Then I started counting and noticed there was one extra. This is something to remember when ordering directly from a hatchery; they often include an extra chick just in case. So make sure you've got digs that accommodate your extra new family member!

We then asked the staffer to tell us who was who since six of them look similar. It amazed all of us that the staffer could pick up three chicks in her fingers with no problem. In her case, practice definitely made perfect.

Once home, we heated up the brooder and then put each chick in one at a time. You have to remember, that you are your chicks' mother and you have to teach them to drink. So, I took each chick out of the shipping box and gently tipped its beak once into the water and once into the food.

The chicks at home in their brooder. A protective screen keeps our house cats away.

We've got the brooder at "sauna" temperature - 95 degrees - and the chicks seem comfortable. They are all up and moving around and they've been drinking and eating. They also love to stretch out their tiny hind legs and wings and lay prone on the bedding and take a nap. Invariably though, once one gets comfortable, another will burst on to the scene and wake it up. It's all pretty cute.

One last thing...Since we got our first chicks from a supply store, they were a day or so older than this bunch because they had to be shipped etc. So, we were thrilled to see that our babies still had remnants of their egg tooth left at the tip of their beaks. (The egg tooth helps them to break through their shells when hatching.)

Check out that egg tooth! Pretty cool!

I've got to go look in on the chicks now, but be sure to check back for more chick updates!

Meet the Flock - Mela the Silver Laced Wyandotte

Mela's inquisitive and friendly.

We have one Silver Laced Wyandotte named by the kids, Mela. She is truly a beautiful chicken and very sweet. Mela used to be best buddies with the flock leader who died; she was at the top of her game. When the flock leader died, Mela became more quiet and continues to be so. She's usually the last one out of the coop in the morning and can often be found grazing quietly by herself. When I give the flock treats, Mela is deferential to the rest of the chickens, eating last. But, there is one area where Mela can be aggressive, she's always the first chicken in the coop and on her perch at night. She will vigorously defend her spot and make sure no one encroaches her space.

Silver Laced Wyandottes as a breed are considered docile, however, I have seen some sources describe them as having a tendency toward domination. When we had more Wyandottes, that description fit perfectly. Silver Laced Wyandottes are very good layers of large brown eggs. And, they are cold hardy especially since the rose comb on the top of their head is close fitting and does not have a tendency to freeze.

Meet the Flock - Our Barred Rocks

We've got three Barred Rocks which are easily our favorite chickens. And, that's hard to say since we really like everyone in the flock! They are the friendliest, most curious and easily handled birds. There are subtle differences between our three, but for our ease, we named them all "Bartie." Our Barred Rocks are always jumping up to see what may or may not be in our hands. Over the winter, they love to peck the snow off our boots when we visit the coop. They are always on hand to eat the bugs that appear when we turn over rocks or dig in the garden. If I'm in the yard and find a spider, I can always count on a "Bartie" to be carried over and eliminate the pest. And, they love to be tucked under our arms and happily be carried around the yard.

Always curious, our Barred Rocks are checking out the camera.

A "Bartie" posing for her picture.
Barred Rocks were developed in New England in the early 1800s. And, I can't say enough about this breed. They are cold hardy and aren't bothered by the heat either. They are the quiet workhorse of a flock, laying brown eggs through most of the week. These are dual purpose birds so they can be used for eggs or meat. But ours are so dear, we could never eat them.

This is a breed I wouldn't hesitate to have in my flock and will get more of in years to come.
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