A Chicken with a Hat!

My kids decided Little Muff needed some head protection after her pecking. She's such a good sport. Too cute!

Caring for a Pecked Chicken

A little over a week ago, I decided to take a mid-morning break and visit my flock. As I walked through the yard, I noticed everyone acting a little strange and one of my roosters was pacing back and forth in front of the open coop door. When I got to the coop, one of my Ameracauna hens, “Little Muff” was on top of the nest boxes and she practically jumped into my arms. The first thing I noticed was her head was covered in blood.
Since it was a cool day and she was severely injured, I knew that I first had to prevent her from going into shock. So, I took her into the house to examine her wound and get her warm. Then, I tried not to freak out because her wound was horrible.
From just behind her comb to the top of her head had been pecked away. There were no more feathers and her top layer of skin was completely gone. Luckily, her blood had already formed a scab because so much skin was gone that it really was just hanging there and the only thing holding it in place was the dried blood.

I situated Little Muff in the dog’s kennel (the dog was unhappy about this) since it could be easily cleaned and was pleased to see she had lost none of her spunk as she ate and drank immediately.
After that, I knew I had to tend to her wound. Now, a lot of people recommend thoroughly cleaning a bloody wound and then applying ointment. But, it’s important to note that chickens have a higher body temperature than we do. This allows their blood to clot faster, helps them avoid infection and heal quickly. With that in mind, I gently cleaned away the excess blood around her face and neck with a warm wet cotton ball. Then I applied Neosporin and hoped she’d heal.
I’m happy to announce that after a week, Little Muff is doing well. Her deepest wounds still have some exposed clots, but there has been no infection. Her skin color is great. Her wounded dead skin is starting to flake off and be replaced by new skin. She is actually starting to get back a few feathers around her eyes and comb. But, I don’t think she’ll ever get back feathers at the top of her head. In that spot, the wounds are so deep that I think the entire feather shaft is gone.

I’ve prepared a hospital, complete with a heat lamp, and have moved Little Muff to our garage to finish her recovery.

The Truth About Chicken Nest Boxes

With cold weather on our doorsteps, it’s the time of year that most chicken keepers take a hard look at their coop to make sure everything’s in order for winter. As I was looking at our coop, the nest boxes struck me as funny. I remember setting up our coop and diligently poring over books that gave advice on exactly what size and how many nest boxes a coop should have.

Now, I’m not advocating deviation from those standards. But, over the years, it has become increasingly obvious that my chickens had nothing to do with writing those standards. And, for the novice chicken keeper, it’s important to understand that chickens have a mind of their own when it comes to egg laying.

We’ve currently got 14 laying hens which have six equally sized clean boxes to use. And, for the most part, this works out fine. But there are exceptions to the rule.

For instance, there’s always one box that every chicken covets and wants to use at the exact same time. There are days I’ll go in the coop and find chickens doubled up in the coveted box with a line of traffic taxiing the runway waiting for their turn for takeoff.

Then, there are those chickens that are free spirits and some days they just have to strike out on their own. Take Big Muff our Easter Egger hen; over the hot summer she chose to sneak out and lay a clutch of eggs just off our concrete parking area by our front door; an even hotter locale than the coop. Or take Hope one of our red sex link hens; she’s obsessed with sneaking out and laying eggs right by our mudroom door. She’s singlehandedly destroyed a planter and made it her own nest box.

There’s also, Henrie, another of our red sex links, she really likes the area right under our nest boxes and actively works to maintain that territory.

Or, there are our brown leghorn hens who like to share a nest box for no other reason than it’s great to have company when you’re laying an egg.

To be fair, on most days, our nest boxes are just fine for everyone, but when the exceptions occur, it makes me laugh and I’m sure you won’t find that written in any chicken keeping guide.

Put An Egg On It - Cookbook Review

I recently had the pleasure of previewing a new cookbook by Lara Ferroni aptly named Put An Egg On It. With a flock of backyard chickens, a cookbook like this can certainly come in handy when you’re trying to find uses for all of your beautiful eggs.

In a nutshell, I like this book. The pictures are beautiful and the recipes inspire you to go beyond the pale and add eggs to dishes you normally would not. In fairness, as a busy mom with after-school activities, sports, numerous pets and a flock of chickens, some of these recipes were a little too involved for me. With finicky eaters in my house, there would be tears at the table if I tried some of the more fancy feasts.

What I liked the best, is that interspersed among fancy recipes, were easy recipes that appeal to palettes that think chicken nuggets are a delicacy. For instance, the grilled cheese and egg sandwich was a hit at my house as well as the hot dog with scrambled eggs and hot sauce. I’ve tried the breakfast bowl recipes and they are easy and yummy.

I LOVED the introduction and egg basics sections of this book. For one, Ferroni’s pictures included not only white eggs but green and brown too. Personally, this more accurately reflects my egg selections. And two, the egg basics section is comprehensive and informative. Overall, this is a great book to have in your kitchen arsenal. The pictures and recipes are inspiring for those of us who are always looking for creative uses for our backyard eggs!

A Summer of Chicken Predators

Our chicken coop is no stranger to predators. We’re always on the lookout and it’s been a while since anything bad occurred. According to Murphy’s Law, we started having problems with a raccoon a few days before leaving on vacation. But, while we were gone, our chicken sitters humanely dispatched that problem and no chickens were harmed.

Then we came home one day to find a pile of feathers on our hillside and a chicken dead in our swimming pool. This was disturbing because we’ve had our pool for three years with no incident. For our chicken to get into the pool, she would have to work hard to fly in there.

A few nights after this, I went to close the coop and do my usual headcount. We were missing one! I searched all over but it got so dark that I had to give up and hope she decided to roost out for the night. In the morning, I found a pile of feathers right next to our fence. I knew she wouldn’t be coming home; but had to wonder, what had gotten our hen.

The next day it was hot, so in the afternoon my kids and I checked on the chickens. We noticed our rooster, Roopert and his favorite hen had gotten out of the fence and were under our screened-in porch. This happens a lot since Roopert has a mind of his own.

We were back inside no more than five minutes and we heard a horrible squawking from Roopert. We rushed outside and there he was; where we’d left him, minus his favorite hen.
As we secured the chickens and did a headcount, I noticed a pile of feathers just down from where Roopert had been standing.

Since this last kill was under our porch and the pile of feathers was the same, I quickly ruled out an avian predator. After a little research, I found out we had a fox preying on our chickens. They are stealthy animals and ours had probably been stalking our chickens for weeks. They often leave little evidence other than a pile of feathers.

Once we had the big picture, it was easy to see what had happened at our pool; a hen escaped an attack only to land wrongly in the water. But, why was this happening now. What was different? We had recently had some yard work done and our front gate was down. None of these attacks took place in our yard proper and our chickens often roam freely outside the fences. I think the deciding factor was that our fox was emboldened since our dog wasn’t in the yard as much because her fence was gone. So we quickly replaced our gate, our dog returned to her watch post and there were no more attacks.

After the recent disappearance of Broody Brood, we’re now down to 17 chickens, thanks to our summer, and fall, of predators.  I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for a strong finish to the fall season!

New Feather Fixer Feed Helps Chicken Molt

Our two-year-old Red Sex Link “Broody Brood” had an extremely difficult molt in late summer. She went from full-feathered one day to nearly naked overnight. And, I’m not kidding. It looked like a chicken exploded in our backyard. (I had to do a head count to make sure no one was missing!)
Her “nakedness” attracted the ire of the rest of the flock. She was getting picked on, her comb and wattle stopped being a healthy red. She needed help!
Broody Brood, a two-year-old Red Sex Link, recovering from her hard molt.
My chickens don’t usually have such dramatic molts, so I resorted to some TLC for Broody Brood. I fed her separately from the flock. I even scrambled some of my chicken eggs and fed them to the flock. After all, they are the best nutrition in the neighborhood. But Broody Brood continued her molt and looked terrible. Then I stumbled upon Nutrena’s Feather Fixer feed. The bag said that Feather Fixer is designed to help your hens; and roosters, get through their molt quicker and help prevent mites.

According to the bag, this food can be fed year-round, or just during a molt. Nutrena says it provides:

  • Optimal protein and energy levels for chickens regrowing feathers, Organic trace minerals to support feather regrowth and eggshell strength, Prebiotics and probiotics to support proper digestion and nutrient absorption,
  • A blend of nutrients to naturally support the immune system,
  • Mite-fighter technology to prevent mites,
  • A natural source of greens and

With all those listed benefits, I had to give it a try. When I opened the bag, I was worried at first. The food is in pellets and my chickens normally hate pellets. But, to my amazement, they couldn’t get enough. We haven’t been using it long, but Broody Brood is looking better by the day. Her newly emerging feathers are coming in fast. They’re shiny and soft. She’s also picking up some weight, her comb and wattle are getting redder and she’s got a lot more energy. As a bonus, a few of my other hens who had bare backs from the roosters are also starting to look better. So far, I’m thinking this is a food I’m definitely going to feed during molting periods, and also mix in throughout the year.

Integrated Systems Post is Excellent

This is a great blog post written by Joel Salatin for the BackYard Chicken blog for Murray McMurray Hatchery. He makes some excellent points about the health benefits of raising backyard chickens, the segregation of today's food and farming systems and the way to get rid of commercialized chicken production.

Click below to follow the link to Joel's post...

Integrated Systems by Joel Salatin

Vintage Kraft Pex Chicken Feed Sign

The vibrant colors caught my eye first, the chicken shape caught my eye second and the logo from Kraft “I got the Milk Bank Boost from Pex” sealed the deal. I haggled a little then purchased my first vintage sign and wouldn’t you know it; the subject matter is chickens.

Let me back up a little; my kids and I love to watch “American Pickers,” a show on the History channel about finding “rusty gold” in the backyards of America and reselling it. From the show, I know that vintage signs and advertising are a huge decorating trend. But, I’ve never purchased one before. Until this year, when I saw my sign sitting on the ground at the World’s Longest Yard Sale; an annual phenomenon in August that runs 690 miles from Michigan to Alabama.

I am not normally a yard sale shopper but this is one I just can’t miss; it’s a hoot! So I took my sign home and did a little research. It turns out my sign is one of three metal signs made for the Kraft Foods Agricultural Division in Chicago, in the late 1950s to 1960s. They were produced by the Stout Sign Company out of St. Louis, Missouri. It’s interesting because farm signs were a staple for salesman back in the day. Without computers and technology, these signs were an early form of calling cards. I was lucky enough to find a copy of The National Future Farmer magazine from the Future Farmers of America dated October/November 1963 where they had an advertisement that explained Milk-Bank Booster feeds. 

These feeds were made with milk by-products and rounded out with other vital nutrients. According to the ad, these feeds produced faster more economical gains, better health, and resistance to stress and better productivity. They did all this by adding the extra nutrition of milk by-products to the ration and by unlocking more nutrition from the other elements of the ration. “Milk-Bank Feed Boosters are storehouses or banks for the key nutrients of milk: lactalbumin protein, milk sugar, vitamins, minerals and important growth factors – elements not found in ordinary grain rations, pasture or roughage.”

I think my sign is a cool connection to the American agricultural past; and it will look great on my kitchen wall!

Broodies are Best!

We recently experimented with letting our broody five-year-old partridge Cochin named Hoppy hatch a few chicks.

Before this, I hand-raised three different sets of day-old chicks and always felt it was a wonderful experience. I loved the smell of the clean chips in the brooder, watching the chicks scratch and peck and having them climb up on my hands to grab a few bites of food.

So when two bundles of joy popped out from under Hoppy on an unusually cold day in May, I had some reservations. I had no idea what to expect. But my husband assured me that Hoppy would take care of everything, and that’s exactly what she did! We initially set up a small coop with a little extra heat for Hoppy and the chicks in our garage.  And aside from the normal changing of bedding and giving them food and water daily, that was all we had to do. 

After that, it was amazing to see Hoppy in action. In the beginning, the chicks spent a lot of time under her keeping warm. When they ventured out for food and water, Hoppy made sure they knew what to eat and made sure they ate it. As the days grew warmer, the chicks spent more and more time venturing out into their coop. They’d run out to investigate visitors and then dart back under Hoppy. They also liked to climb on Hoppy’s back and take a ride or hang out looking at the world. If we held a chick too long, Hoppy would let us know. She even taught them how to roost!

One thing I always worried about with my hand-raised chicks was introducing them to our existing flock. With Hoppy, she took care of that too! She just walked the chicks out into the yard and nobody dared to cross her and mess with the chicks.

I didn’t even have to worry about confining the chicks so they didn’t wander and get hurt. Hoppy watched them constantly, always “talking” with them. The chicks would each chirp regularly and Hoppy would respond.

At three months of age, Hoppy’s chicks are fully integrated into the flock. To me, an amazing and seamless accomplishment that required very little of my attention.

If you’ve got a broody and don’t mind what sex your chicks are, go ahead and let her raise some; it’s a lot easier than hand-raising and it’s a lot of fun to watch!

Wildlife Wednesdays: Virginia Creeper Sphinx Moth

A few weeks ago I went into my yard to find my potted grapes decimated and some caterpillars happily munching on the few scraps of leaves that were left. The caterpillars looked so much like tomato hornworms that I put them in a container with some leftover tomatoes with the intention of showing my kids when they got home from summer camp.

But all through the day, it kept bothering me; the caterpillars were smaller than tomato hornworms and what were they doing eating grape leaves? A little research later and I had my answer; they were not tomato hornworms, they were Virginia creeper sphinx moth caterpillars (Darapsa Myron). It turns out they LOVE grape leaves!

So my kids and I set our caterpillars up in our butterfly keeper and fed them leaves until they turned into cocoons. About two weeks later, out popped our beautiful moths. What a cool find and what a cool summer science activity for my kids. And, by the way, my grape plant is getting new leaves.

Hoppy's a Mom!

Ok, I know I said we weren't getting any baby chicks this spring. And, technically, I'm correct. We did not buy any new chicks. But it turns out our partridge cochin, Hoppy, did have plans for baby chicks and with a little assistance, she got them.

So, here's what happened...Hoppy went broody. This is nothing new since she's a cochin; she's always broody. No big deal. Except this year we have Roopert, our unexpected buff orpington rooster. Then enter into the picture my husband who has always wanted to have Hoppy hatch her own chicks. So, as Hoppy patiently sat in her nest box, my husband took two eggs he thought were fertilized and put them under her. He marked them to keep track of them. Every morning he's been letting the chickens out and then closing them up at night. He knew how many days this would take.

I didn't give this whole thing much thought and went about my business until yesterday morning. My husband came into the house and asked me to hold out my hand and close my eyes. I don't like this trick, so I refused. He didn't need the trick though, because some little peeps echoed from his pocket.

So, there you have it! Two baby chicks hatched sometime in the wee hours of May 13th. A late Mother's Day gift!

With the news, I quickly set up our "chicken hospital" with bedding and a new nest box for Hoppy. I knew we had to move Hoppy and her chicks out of the main coop. There's just not enough protection and we've got lots of predators; cats, snakes, raccoons, a dog. Plus, we're having yard work done.

Hoppy easily settled into her new coop in the garage and, for the most part, kept the babies under her until my kids came home from school. Then, Hoppy couldn't wait any longer. She moved over to the food and water and the two chicks came with her. She showed them how to eat and drink and they had a great time trying out their new nibbles.

Hoppy patiently let us hold the chicks and then tucked them back under her belly for a little TLC.

This morning the chicks are more sure-footed. They routinely peek out from under Hoppy's belly and pop over to get something to eat. My kids took a moment before they went to school to say goodbye to the chicks and declared they have naming rights with Lemon and Lime topping the list.

It's amazing how easy it is to have a hen raise her own chicks and to see the bond between mother and chicks!

Book Review - Chickens in Five Minutes a Day

I think it's safe to say the folks at Murray McMurray Hatchery, one of the largest hatcheries in the United States, know a thing or two about how to raise chickens. They've been in the business of selling chicks for 95 years and have just transferred those years of knowledge to the backyard chicken owner in a new book; Chickens in Five Minutes a Day.

I recently had a chance to preview this book and found it to be a wonderful resource; one that I'm glad to have added to my personal library. The premise of the book is that, providing your zoning laws will allow it, most everyone can easily have a flock of backyard chickens.

The book gives a well thought-out look at what raising chickens involves. It's comprehensive in covering everything from what to expect, to picking out breeds, setting up a coop, raising your chicks and day-to-day management of your flock.

What I liked best was the emphasis on planning and how much easier, more efficient and rewarding this can make owning chickens. Personally, I think planning is something many folks miss in the rush of picking out cute chicks and beginning to raise them. I like how planning is laced into every facet of the book from picking out breeds to the best coop for your backyard and everything in between.

With my own flock, planning what breeds to purchase has always been the fun part. And, if done correctly, really sets you up for success. Intentionally, my flocks are hardy and productive as well as beautiful. I like to try new breeds but always do my research ahead of time.

However, I could have used this book when locating my first coop. We are not blessed with flat land here and poorly located our coop at the top of a small hill in our backyard. While it drains well, multiple walks up the hill each day have left us with an incline that won't grow grass and becomes dangerous in wet weather. Needless to say, we're putting up a new coop this spring!

So, regardless of whether you're a novice or a veteran, there's something for everyone in this well-thought out book. I'm going to put some of this advice to work in my new coop and am looking forward to having more time to enjoy my chickens.

Starting Seeds in Eggshells

Click through to see my post for Laura's Lean Beef on starting seeds in eggshells. It's economical and ultimately a great way to return nutrients to the soil.

Reflections on Roopert the Rooster

This season, we decided not to get any more chickens; 20 is enough for right now. They give us plenty of eggs and lots of fun. So, we stocked up on food, chips and supplies and didn't go near any of our local supply stores until we knew they'd have no more chicks on hand. I'm happy to say our strategy was successful!

So with no new chicks to add, I was sitting on my porch yesterday observing my flock and thought I'd share some of my reflections on how the flock has changed over the last year; mainly with the addition of our unexpected rooster, Roopert. 

Roopert last May.
First, let me say that we don't eat our chickens. So when Roopert came along, eating him was not an option. I'm not against eating chickens, it's just that ours become such members of the family, there's no way we could kill them.

In this regard, we're lucky because our unexpected rooster is a buff orpington. They tend to be friendly birds and so Roopert has not been a problem in the people to chicken arena. If he was a problem, this story would be different.

Before Roopert, we had only laying hens. They were very friendly and spent lots of time with us. Once Roopert matured, our hens immediately changed. They definitely became less dependent on us for friendship, and most stopped spending lots of time getting pets and sitting on our laps. That is the part of this story that I like the least.

Beyond that, although he doesn't provide us with eggs, Roopert does add many positives. For one, he is completely protective of the hens. I've seen him many times diligently watching the skies for hawks. If danger is spotted, he's quick to let all the hens know and get them to safety.

Roopert likes his flock to stay together and when a hen disobeys, it's hilarious to watch his antics. He'll stand close by them and just crow and crow until they get to what he considers a safe spot.

Roopert also likes to point out great food sources for the hens. If we turn over a log or something, Roopert immediately checks it out and then makes sure all the hens get something to eat. He's usually the last one to eat.

Roopert is also protective of the eggs the hens lay; not from us, but from our dog Sophie. She is constantly trying to get in the coop and snatch a few eggs. Before Roopert, I'd just have to keep an eye on Sophie. Now, I don't have to worry. Roopert is always on the case and is quick to kick Sophie out of the coop.

Most of all, I love to hear Roopert crow. It's not overly loud, so it doesn't disturb my sleep in the morning. But I think it gives my backyard character. Roopert has different types of crows; he's got the morning wake up crow, the "I'm worried, stay by me" crow, the "don't wander away from the flock" crow, and he's got a special crow when we go out and talk with him.

So, even though he was unexpected, Roopert has been great. He's added beauty, character, protection and an extra element of entertainment to my backyard flock.
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