Monday, February 20, 2012

A Chicken Story - part 4

One last story about the chickens. During one of the recent fiascos of trying to get the roosters to sleep somewhere where we couldn’t hear them crowing if they should choose to do so at 3am, I decided to try tricking the roosters into going to the main coop. I just had to put some scratch down so they’d come into the main coop.Well, this got most of the chickens in, but the roosters were on to me and decided the freedom of the annex was way better than some corn.
So I attempted to get them out of the annex so I could push them toward the main coop. Now, something I haven’t mentioned yet is that leghorn chickens are extremely flighty. In fact, I’d say this whole batch of chickens is much more flighty than our last bunch. Everything freaks them out and they’re always running away, flying, trying to escape.

In my attempt to scare out the roosters, one of the silver leghorn females flipped out and flew up onto the roof of the annex. I reached for her, which made her freak out more, and she flew to the main chicken coop roof. Then, she hopped up into the enormous mulberry tree towering over the yard. And she kept going up, and up, and up.

“FINE!” I thought. “I hope a hawk gets you! You just sleep up there all night if you want!” Okay, I didn’t want a hawk to get her because once they get a free meal, they’ll be back for more. But I gave up on the whole venture and went back inside to sew and brood.

When Jeremy came home that night I told him what happened. He nodded his head a bit and laughed at our silly chickens. Then he went out to assesss the situation. A few minutes later I heard the most awful sound. I went outside to discover that Jeremy had donned a head lamp and climbed way up the tree to rescue that dumb bird. He was carrying her down and she was screeching and carrying on with the most dreadful sound you ever heard. It was like a cross between a screaming goose and a guinea fowl, for those who know what those are like. You’d think he was torturing her. And of course her cries for help inspired the whole rest of the flock to put up a ruckus of screeches, crows, and other obnoxious sounds. It was impressive.

Still not a word from the neighbors…

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Chicken Story - part 3

Yes, there is more to tell in this crazy chicken story. Now I’m going to talk about who sleeps where.

When we first opened up the coop annex for the birds, none of them bothered with it. We had to go out each night and grab a couple birds and put them in the annex. Then we hit on the bright idea of closing off the entrance to the main coop run and trapping about half of the chickens on the side with the coop annex. That did the trick. They know how to get themselves to bed. As it started getting colder we put a heat lamp on in the annex.

Now, as I understand it, a heat lamp heats the air and the sweeter heater heats the body of the bird. It’s a radiant heater. I don’t exactly get it, but I do know that it felt much warmer in the coop annex (of course it’s a smaller space too). After we turned the heat on I began to notice a funny trend. We weren’t getting out early enough to separate the chickens and force some into the annex. So one night I went out and there were maybe three chickens who had chosen the annex. The next night there were five or six. Then maybe eight. It kept growing till more than half were in the annex and it was packed! They know a super warm coop when they feel it and the word had spread!

I can just hear them on the chicken playground each morning…
“Brr, last night was a bit nippy.”
“It was? I hadn’t noticed.”
“What? Oh, you’re sleeping in the other building. Hmm, maybe I’ll have to give that a try.”

Here they are coming and going - and responding to a big intruder!

But after awhile the chickens had gotten much bigger and suddenly the coop annex wasn’t quite right anymore. Very unfortunately, their bums hang right over the waterer so they were pooping in that all night. So we had to move that outside. And they kept knocking against the heat lamp because they’re so close to the ceiling of the annex and that fell down a couple times. Ack! So we removed that too. It had warmed up again and they were fine. (Thanks bizarre Minnesota winter!)

Last week the nighttime temperatures plunged to single digits with a negative wind-chill. Jeremy put the heat lamp back in the annex so they wouldn’t freeze out there. We went to bed feeling our chickens were safe and sound.

Early in the morning we were awakened by the sound of crowing. And I mean early. 3am to be exact. “What the heck are they crowing for!?” I groaned. About 3:45 I finally pulled some clothes on and went out to see what was up. All the chickens – that’s what was up! Between the heat lamp and the full moon shining in their window, it was like broad daylight in there. I thought about the situation for about two seconds, then reached over and unplugged their heat lamp.

I went back to bed and I’m sure they had to too, back to the roost to snuggle up and stay warm.

The next night we decided to avoid that problem by making the roosters (ALL of whom have been sleeping in the annex) move to the main coop. So out we trooped at 7pm and carried them one by one to the other coop. And boy did they put up a racket: squawking and crowing and screeching and carrying on like we were torturing them. It was kind of hysterical. No word from the neighbors… yet…

The following night we didn’t feel like moving the roosters, so we just unplugged the heat lamp. But, 3:00 that morning – the roosters started crowing! I have no idea why. It was way darker than the night before. Those ungrateful wretches.

This time Jeremy got up. His thought was to close off the coop so it wasn’t so open to sound escaping. He closed their window, which we’d had open an inch or two as a vent. And then he cut a piece of plywood and screwed it over their open door. Yes, at 3:00 in the morning. This dulled the sound somewhat, but I could still hear it later – so I put my head under my pillow. It is just about time to get rid of those beasts! We are planning to get rid of all but one, but Jeremy has been avoiding it. They’re so beautiful and it’s hard to pick which one to keep.

At this point, I’m ready to do away with all of them!

But wait, you guessed it, that’s not all!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Chicken Story - part 2

I know you’re all dying to hear what happened next, so here goes! The chickens were pretty well established with their two coops and the run and in December we left them in the hands of a capable chicken-loving friend while we went to Jeremy’s mom’s house for Christmas.
(just a video of happy chickens)

We got back on the 26th and were debriefing with our friend. He had a fine time watching the girls (and boys!). But, he said, at one point some of them escaped. He was pretty sure he’d gotten them all back. We decided to do a quick head count to be sure. 1, 2, 3, 4… Jeremy counted and was stunned: there were 25 chickens!!! We had never counted the chicks when they arrived. The hatchery must have sent five extra ‘just in case.’ So we have 25 chickens after all! Twenty-one hens and four roosters.
Four roosters that were starting to get a bit noisy, as you can imagine. I can’t remember when they started crowing, but they’ve been at it a couple months now for certain. Sometimes two or three would crow at the same time, which kind of makes me laugh. I don’t know why. And they always seem to crow more when we’re around, like they’re defending their territory or asserting their rights. We haven’t had any neighbor complaints yet, so that’s good!

One day a couple weeks ago I was walking by the coop and I happened to glance in. Most of the chickens were clustered together in the smaller run and I could see all four of the roosters together. They’re quite beautiful, with black and white coloring, iridescent green feathers, big tail feathers, huge wattles and combs, etc. Then, one of them let out a big crow. But it wasn’t one of the roosters I saw in the run. It came from somewhere else. We have five roosters! Not four!
Geez. Obviously with 25 chickens there are just too many for us to bother and figure out what is there. Actually, it’s too hard to get them in one spot and too hard to keep track! I just keep thinking there are 5 of each, 5 of each. But after I insisted that we had only four female leghorns the other day, then Jeremy counted six, I finally got it. They must have sent six of each bird instead of five of each. “Just in case.”

You may be thinking that’s the end of the story – but just you wait. There’s more to come!

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Chicken Story - part 1

I haven’t talked a whole lot about our chickens since last September (okay, I haven’t talked about much of anything since last September!).
It has been quite a saga.

We decided to get a new batch of chickens because the previous flock just wasn’t laying much any more. We had to buy eggs for the first time in two years! We had been planning to start a new flock but it just hadn’t worked out last spring. Then we realized, it just isn’t going to work out in spring period because that is such a busy time. So we went against normal convention and decided to start our flock in the fall.

Around here, you can’t go to the local farm store and pick up a dozen baby chicks in October. You can in February or March, but not October. We also wanted certain kinds of chickens for a variety of egg color and winter hardiness.  So we ordered them from a hatchery, which was more than happy to send whatever we wanted through the mail. However, they come in minimum batches of 25.  I believe the order was for 5 Rhode Island Red hens, 5 Americauna hens, 5 Cuckoo Maran hens, 5 Silver Leghorn hens, and 5 Silver Leghorn roosters. Yes, roosters.  We did not want 25 chickens though! So we started looking around for people who wanted to go in on the order, and we ordered our chicks.

By the time they arrived on September 30, we only had one person interested in four chicks. Others had backed out and no one else was interested. Yikes! People apparently thought starting chicks in the fall could not be done. We sold those four chickens, and then, sadly, one of the roosters died. He just couldn’t take the stress of travel I guess, which sometimes happens. We were down to 20 chicks.

We plunged ahead and Jeremy said maybe we’d sell the extras in the spring. After about one month in the brooder, those tiny little things had gotten massive and were bursting at the seams! I mean, the brooder was bursting – the chickens themselves weren’t bursting.

We had to move them out to the coop. We had cleaned that all up, put down loads of fresh hay, and Jeremy lowered the roosting bar so they could reach it. These chicks didn’t need to be taught how to roost like the last batch. They got it right away. We turned on the sweeter heater (a wonderful new addition to our set-up) and moved the chickens in on November 10th.  I don’t think it was too long after that that we started letting them outdoors. Thank goodness we’ve had a mild winter this year!

The coop looking a bit grungy.

Can it really be comfortable to sleep in stacks, 2 or 3 high?

Almost as soon as the chicks were out of the brooder, Jeremy went to work converting it into a second chicken coop. The Chicken Annex as I like to call it. Cause there was no way 20 chickens were going to fit in our original coop!

walls go up higher and a window goes in.

walls are up, a new roof, nest boxes on the side, and a door to get in and out.

I think Jeremy did a great job on the coop, though we’ve both realized now there are limitations to it and we’re sort of going back to the drawing board. The really great thing is that he built a sturdy covering for the run so the chickens could have their full run available in the winter. We didn’t want them getting bored and picking on each other instead.

Well, that is by no means the end of the story. Just wait till you hear what happens next!!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Biscuits are so square

If you have a square cutter that is! I discovered a bag full of cutters - biscuit and cookie - when I was reorganizing the kitchen. I saw this one and had to make a batch of biscuits right away.

They turned out quite nice.

It was also a dream to work in the new kitchen set-up - but I'm getting ahead of myself! I'll have to post about that project soon...

Monday, February 6, 2012

We are ready for eggs

The girls haven't started laying yet, but when they do, we'll be getting a lot of eggs. I'd guess when they're in full swing, we'll get at least a dozen a day! Not sure how long these egg cartons will hold out.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Walk in cooler

Jane asked for this one, so this will be the first of my catch-up posts.

Some time last year we started looking into the idea of turning our handy-dandy root cellar into an even handier-dandier walk in cooler. Why would we do that you ask? Of course you would ask. It's the mushrooms' fault.

Back in our pre-mushroom days, the root cellar was fine for storing root vegetables, apples, and whatever else seemed appropriate in the cold months. We always had some scrambles in the late fall/early spring season when temperatures outside got warm and we had to run down and close up the vents so things wouldn't get too warm. And there were times we had to scramble down in the dead of winter to close vents and open the door so things wouldn't freeze. So it's not perfect, but it usually works just fine.

Back in the early days of mushrooms, Jeremy would just store the spawn in the kitchen refrigerator (much to my annoyance). But there has been more and more spawn and last year we realized we could use the root cellar to store the spawn. But, with Jeremy inoculating up into April and May - the root cellar doesn't maintain a cold temperature that long. So back to the refrigerator. But with a gazillion bags of spawn, there was not enough room. So Jeremy bought a cheap fridge off Craigslist just for mushroom purposes. Then he got another. And another. In the end we had two fridges in the basement, one in the back hall, and one in the garage! Ridiculous, I know.

So how do we utilize that space in the root cellar? It's already insulated and can get cold. How to get it colder and keep it that way? The answer: a modified air conditioner. An air conditioner of course is designed to keep a certain size of space at a certain cool temperature. But air conditioners don't go below a certain temperature. Let's face it, even on the hottest of hot, humid summer days, you really don't want to be living in a 35 degree house. Jeremy did some research and found the CoolBot which is a little contraption you can add to an air conditioner to make it cool down more than normal.

Anyway, without further adieu... pictures!

Here is the root cellar after it was all cleaned out. The walls we built are already insulated, but in order for this to work it had to be even more insulated.

This meant insulation on the stone walls and everywhere else...

up, up, up went the insulation - two layers of pink on the walls and floor...

and a layer of foil on top of it all, including on the ceiling.

Here it is mostly done, except the plywood Jeremy put on the floor so we could walk on the floor.

Six inches or so of insulation on the floor...

so Jeremy built up a threshold so we wouldn't destroy this part as we came in and out.

Finally he installed the air conditioner.The pipes on the side are so we can take advantage of the winter months, like a normal root cellar, and not use the air conditioner in the coldest times.

Here it is with the CoolBot installed and everything taped up and ready to go.

It's really a fun space because its completely lined in foil. The one bare bulb in there lights the whole place up and it kind of glows. It's not all dark and spooky like the root cellar.

Just in time for the first batch of spawn!

Now when Jeremy starts harvesting mushrooms and he brings in loads of them, we don't have to find room for them in the fridge (or fridges!). A neighbor gave us an old workbench from his basement which we'll be installing eventually, and I think shelving will line one or two walls. But for now everything is living on the floor. We've gotten rid of one fridge, and the other two are unplugged and ready to cart away. Wahoo!

[If you want a description of this project from a different perspective, check out Jeremy's post about it!]

Friday, February 3, 2012

Blogging hiatus - coming to an end?

After being a rabid (er...regular?) blogger for so long, it's hard to believe I haven't posted much of anything in four months! We've done a few things to the computer, but it hasn't helped enormously. I did switch from IE to Chrome, and wow! It is a lot faster. So I'm hoping to get back into blog land again.

I had a spare moment the other day to catch up on my blog reading - I was only about 160 posts behind amongst the nearly 40 blogs I keep an eye on. Yikes! Luckily most of them aren't posting much either. =) But you know how it is when you follow a blog and they post start to feel like you're part of their community, you know them, and if you keep a blog maybe they know you! This feeling is increased when the people you follow are also following and commenting on each others' blogs! Aw, we're like one big happy family. =) (Except I feel like I'm letting my family down by not posting!)

My only resolution this year is to get a cat (none of that 'lose weight' or 'make myself a better person' crap!). But now I'm thinking I need to add something like 'organize my time better so I can blog regularly again.' Actually, I think just "organize my time better" would do it. There is so much I want to do! And I feel like I'm only getting a quarter of it done.  Mama Pea wrote about that just the other day, something about life life I guess.

I'll give myself (or ourselves) more credit: though it seems like the end of each day leaves us with the same to-do list, or even a longer to-do list, we've actually accomplished a lot in the four months or so that I haven't been blogging.

We got our new baby chicks; Jeremy built a second chicken coop (the "annex"); Jeremy covered most of the run so the girls (and boys) could enjoy the run even during the winter; we put in some nice supports for the raspberries in the front; Jeremy made two batches of hard cider; we expanded the operation at the mushroom farm; I was in five big art/craft shows; Jeremy converted the root cellar into a walk in cooler; I helped get our neighborhood local business directory finally printed (and partly distributed - still working on that); we dealt with a sick chicken for weeks on end; we got bee boxes for Christmas and Jeremy has been putting those together; we nabbed some cool old cupboards off Craigslist and have been installing those in the kitchen; we mostly finished the front hall entry; and Jeremy created a website (which I am envious of!).  Hmm... is that it? I'm sure there must be something I'm forgetting...

So, we have been up to a lot! Unfortunately, our new year has not been without trouble. My g-pa died in mid-January. I should do a post about him - he was a great man. A week later someone turned into Jeremy on the road, knocking off the sideview mirrow and crunching up the car a bit. The next day I came down with an unpleasant case of pleurisy (which I do not care to ever repeat again). Last week someone backed into our garage, damaging the siding (they did come back and fix it, yay!). And just yesterday, the day we were due to pick up our repaired car at the shop, someone ran into and scraped up our rental car!   When it rains, it pours.

My hope is to get some blog posts up about many of the positive/productive things I mentioned, before I fall so far behind that I just give up! Jeremy is gearing up for mushroom season - his first batch of spawn arrived yesterday, and he picks up his first batch of logs next week. The weather will get warmer, visions of gardening will take over, and I'm sure there will be lots to share!  (Hopefully I'll get organized and have time to share it!)