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Raising Small Livestock: The Devil’s in the Details

A lot of people would like to raise some sort of livestock – whether it’s chickens or pigs or lambs or whatever – but they are stopped by lack of experience and fear. Actually, raising animals is pretty simple (not necessarily easy – which is a whole different deal):
— Make sure they have the nourishment that works for them.
— Make sure they have protection from predators.
— Make sure they have water. All the water they can drink. There is no such thing as too much water for livestock. Trust me on that one. (more…)

The Little Red Hen Moves

Far be it from me to make the claim that Aunt Toby and the DH are experts at raising chickens or hatching chickens with a broody hen. Chickens, as I have noted before, are the ‘gateway drug’ of livestock raising: as long as you can keep them save, fed and watered, you are good to go. You don’t really need to be an expert first to raise them. In all the years we raised chickens in a henhouse, we only had one hen go broody, and she was part of a ‘matched pair’ of Old English that a co-worker of the DH’s gave to us. Most chickens have had broodiness selected out of them because a broody hen does not lay eggs, (more…)

Well, let’s not brood about it

This past weekend, it became obvious to us that we had one resident of the chicken community out in the barn who was, as that song from Sesame Street goes, ‘not like the others.’

Our little red hen, the Bantam we got as a gift, was starting to molt (that is, lose her feathers) and was hunkered down in one of the nesting boxes and was positively nasty. Wouldn’t leave; wouldn’t allow anyone to put their hand underneath her and frankly had taken on this sort of ‘loose baggy’ sort of appearance.

She’s gone broody. (more…)

Light and Good: Eggs

eggsLet’s put something to rest immediately (if not sooner): Stop dismissing eggs as ‘breakfast food’. In many other places on Earth, eggs are seen for what they are (concentrated protein) and are served at many different times of the day, with dishes to match. It seems that only in the United States is a dish of cold greasy fried eggs, with the ubiquitous accompaniment (now there’s a word) of fried potatoes, and some form of meat is deemed to be the very embodiment of breakfast. It is no wonder to me that there are people who will not touch an egg at all (much less before 11 a.m.). (more…)

No chix-sicles at Chez Siberia

barnAnd in our last chicken-y episode, the hens had started to do their egg-thing and life seemed to be going along beautifully. We get more eggs now on a daily basis and they are bigger eggs too, though every once in a while, we get a ‘peewee’ one.

But, we always knew, the DH and I, that at some point this fall, we were going to have to bring the chickens inside..someplace. The climate at Chez Siberia (Zone 4 on a good day) gets into the ‘oh, crap it cold out there’ state pretty quickly.

Too quickly. It snowed – twice this week. A freak October storm for sure and we lucked out in only getting 2 inches of snow. It was not that cold – in the 30s – but it was a rather sharp reminder that winter is coming. The DH and The Boy had started the work on the barn last week to make a winter space for the chickens but we were certainly not in a position to move them yet. The barn is actually the original brooder house (which was heated by a series of coal stoves actually) for the chicken farm that Chez Siberia was in the 1930s and 1940s. It is long and low, with windows (or actually the remains of windows – the former owner used to keep his horses in there and they ‘removed’ the windows in short order) all along the south side. A couple of years ago, we came up with hinged shutters to close off the openings, but we did not get out to the end of the barn because we did not use that end of the building.

Well, now we need to use that end of the building, so we needed to clean it out (which we did). new wallsWe also put in a wall to make the space that we will be using for the chickens smaller (so that they are not trying to heat up the entire back of the barn with their body heat – they will stay warmer this way). These chickens are Light Brahmas Light Brahmas and are extremely large and fluffy birds with teeny ‘pea combs’ so as long as we keep them out of the wind and give them a space that is not too big, with the South-facing windows, they should be able to keep themselves warm through this winter.

shutterOrdinarily, we’d just put on the shutters, but we saw some interesting pictures of chickens in the snow and it gave us the idea that perhaps the birds would, on nice sunny days (and we get those starting in January), like to ‘take the air’ as they used to say. We plan to use some scrap lumber and old windows to make a 3-sided ‘sunporch’. We’ll open the shutter (it’s hinged at the top), snuggle the ‘sunporch’ up against the outside wall of the barn, put the shutter down across the top and hook it down to the outside of the ‘sunporch’. But, let’s say that we just want to give them some fresh air? The DH came up with some screens that just fit into the window openings. If all we want is fresh air, then we can open up the shutters. If we want to use the ‘sunporch’ then, we’ll take out the screens from the inside of the windows and shoo the chickens out into the sun.

screensWe’ll be able to do a bit of cleaning in their living space (always a job done much better and more ‘pleasantly’ in the winter rather than in the spring when the weather – and the manure – warms up) and get them some fresh air and sun at the same time. Win-win.

In the meantime, the chickens do not seem to have been fazed at all by the snow. And when I’ve gone out in the morning, I’ve had to knock the ice out of the waterers, so we’ve started taking hot water up for them and we are feeding scraps along with everything else to make sure they get plenty of calories. But soon..very soon, they will be coming into the barn for the winter.

Is There a Coffee Table Book in Aunty Toby’s Future?

Chickens are the ‘gateway drug’ of livestock raising: People who have no experience with farming see them as cute, easy to care for, safe to be around, non-toxic and benign.

Heh – little do you know… (more…)

Egg-sactly What We Were Looking For

Well, this had to happen too, though we did not expect it for at least another couple of weeks. We’ve got hens now – pullets to be sure (the technical term for what might pass as a chicken in the 8th grade, hanging around the lockers in the hallways, flirting with the boys), but definitely coming into her own. She can lay eggs, but they are really quite small. And if you read Joel Salatin’s book on raising pastured poultry, Pastured Poultry
you don’t want to hatch those eggs or buy chicks that have been hatched from them – any chick hatched out from a pullet egg is going to be, by definition, much smaller than an egg laid by a mature hen and prone to physical problems, weakness and disease.

Small? On the scale of “Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large, Jumbo and OOOOO, That Hurts”, this particular egg did not even register as a Pee Wee. Pee Wee Eggs need to be 1.25 ounces. This one weighed 1 ounce. Flat. (more…)

Goodbye to chickens…Hello to chicken

Parental Warning: The following contains intimations of violence and meat eating.

Sigh. We knew it was going to come to this, right? We all knew that when Aunt Toby and the DH got chicks earlier this year, that some of them were ‘born for the freezer’, right? We got ‘straight run’ (that is, no one took a startlingly intimate look at their rear ends and decided which ones would grow up to lay eggs…and which ones would grow up meant for other things). “Sexed chicks’ cost more – a lot more – because it does take some skill to look deeply, passionately, into the rear end of a chick and be able to make that sort of decision. With ‘straight run’, you don’t know how much of which you will get, but you will get some of each.

We got about 50% roosters, which is pretty good. We weighed all of them earlier this summer and the biggest and with the most development (combs, wattles, condos with sports cars out front), got to take the lottery as to who got courting rights with the hens…and which ones would eventually make the trip to Pepperoni-ville. (more…)

Loose Ends and Housekeeping

If you are (ahem) old enough to recall the Ed Sullivan Show, then if I mention the words “Italian acrobats with spinning plates”, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. For the less ‘elderly’ among Aunt Toby’s readers, suffice it to say that this family group had a hilarious act whereby they set up poles with plates spinning at the tops and they ran about the stage, back and forth, making sure the plates were spinning and not falling to smash on the floor. The big finale was their all picking up the poles and catching the plates. Voila!!

Well, sometimes, Aunt Toby feels that way about KCE. I have to make sure to keep some of the ongoing things up in the air and revisiting them from time to time before they..well, they won’t go smash on the floor, but the story may not be fresh or interesting any longer and all of my little buggers might lose interest.

So, this post is a bit of a catch up. (more…)

Chicks on Grass!!

Well, it had to happen because..that was all part of the plan, which was that we would be pasture-raising the chickens. And now, as you can tell (go back to When we first got the chicks to get an idea of how much they have grown in 8 weeks), they are NOT chicks anymore and they are out in their “outdoor coop”. They are moving toward that state of ‘Pullet-hood” where the hens will start laying eggs by the end of the summer. This coop is NOT like the moveable broiler pens a la Joel Salatin at Polyface Farms. I have to admit that the DH is his own guy, wanted something he could put nesting boxes in, put perches in to get the birds off the ground and what the heck, he wanted to do his own design anyway. This is really sort of a prototype.

Which didn’t look so hot when the thing fell over and he came down to the house to ask me about how to figure out how long the bottom had to be, (more…)

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