Sunday, May 31, 2015

Baby chicks...again

Introducing: our fourth batch of baby chicks!  I realized we are so much more relaxed about this venture compared to the first time we got chicks back in 2009.

The chicks were supposed to arrive yesterday, Saturday morning. We had gotten the brooder moved into place, but that's pretty much it. I'm not sure when we were planning to figure everything else out - Friday night I guess. But at 5:45 Friday morning Jeremy got a phone call that bolted us both out of bed. The chicks were at the post office ready to be picked up!

While Jeremy went off to the P.O. I cleaned out the brooder, found a towel to put down, and turned on the heat lamp. Our brooder can be made three different sizes by sliding a piece of wood into slots in the sides. Where that piece of wood went - who knows! I found a thick piece of cardboard and cut it down to shape. I dug out the food and water things...then realized we hadn't bought any chick food yet! Geez.

Then the front door opened and I heard the mad sound of 25 peeping chicks moving through the house. Jeremy brought them down the stairs to the brooder and we moved them in. It probably wasn't warm enough for them yet but there wasn't much we could do. Jeremy mixed up a little sugar water for them - I guess that's a helpful thing to do, though I don't remember us doing it last time. They had to wait a few hours for the stores to open for chick feed!

Around 3am Saturday morning Jeremy woke up thinking about the chicks, wondering if they'd gone through their water. He went down to check on them and discovered the heat lamp bulb had burned out! The chicks were all huddled in a corner trying to stay warm. Poor baby chicks! If there is one thing we know, it's that being too cold can be the death of a baby chick. Jeremy dug out our sweeter heater. With a little pushing he managed to wedge this into the brooder in place of the cardboard for the fourth wall. Perfect! The chicks snuggled up to it to get warm again.

We're still trying to manage the heat. Chicks need to be at about 95 degrees the first week, then 90 degrees, and going slowly down as they get bigger and grow in their adult feathers. After we put in a new heat lamp bulb and the sweeter heater, the temperature was around 100 degrees! One of the chicks seemed to be panting, but others were snuggled right up to the heater. We moved the heat lamp up to help regulate the temperature. It was still pretty high, so we unplugged the heat lamp to see if just the sweater heater was enough. That's how I managed to get the lovely video below where you can actually see the color of the chicks. The heat lamp is red, so a previous video I shot was really weird with everything looking kind of red.
I went to check on the chicks an hour later and they were all quiet, snuggled in a line down the side of the heater, trying to stay as close as they could. Okay, too cool! So I turned the heat lamp back on. Goodness, with all this heat fluctuation we might lose a chick or two. It's a bit stressful on their little bodies!  But so far they all seem healthy and active - so fingers crossed!

The yellow ones are Delaware. The black ones are Cuckoo Maran. The brownish ones are Americauna. The grey ones are Blue Cochin. I have always wanted blue chickens! So I'm excited about those. We are very likely to end up with some roosters. Hopefully we'll have a quieter rooster than we had in the last batch!

Sunday, May 17, 2015


More pictures from the past. This is a project from exactly one year ago today!

We took three ash trees out back in 2013 but I had them leave these tall stumps. I'd always thought it would be fun to have a bird bath on one of them. I still haven't gotten around to having a proper bird bath... some day! (The third stump is off stage left.)

But what to do with the other two stumps... I decided to screw this large plastic pot onto the stump (so it can't be blown off) and plant it with trailing plants.

Here it is with alyssum and nasturtium.

It worked pretty well. I planted two nasturtium in it last week and I'm thinking about what else to plant this year. I'd love to get some lobelia or other similar trailing flowering plant. Any suggestions?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

When life throws you tires...

Looking through photos on our camera is now a fascinating trip through the last year...or more. We used to pull photos off right away and tuck them safely in some folder or other on the computer. But now they languish on the camera with plans to someday do something with them.

For instance, eight months ago (last September) I put a plan into action regarding a pile of tires that had been dumped behind our fence. It started with just a couple tires. We didn't do anything about them, so a few more showed up. I realized if we didn't do anything about them, we'd soon have a VERY large pile of tires. So I brought them in to the yard and started thinking.

I decided to try growing garlic in two of them. The garlic plants didn't do so well last year - not sure why. This new spot is right outside the back door. It's also close to the house and Jeremy prefers not have any food items here because of the possibility of lead paint in the soil. So I put the tires down and filled them up with compost. I planted five or six garlic in each tire, put some hay down for mulch, and put fencing around to keep the squirrels out.

The black of the tires causes the soil to warm up faster and stay warm longer - I suspect. The garlic actually started growing before the winter. Now that winter finally seems to be over, the garlic has grown like crazy and is mostly doing very well. (No pictures of that just yet.) If the garlic is actually growing nice and big down below, I'll be repeating this experiment!

I save the other three tires to make a potato tower. I haven't grown potatoes since I was in high school, but this seemed like a good time to give it a try. When life throws you tires... grow some food in it!

Monday, April 6, 2015

A first time for everything

Yesterday Jeremy and I went to a family lunch for Easter. We came home and had the whole afternoon before us. Jeremy headed upstairs to work on the computer. I turned on the tea kettle and headed down to the basement with the laundry.
On the way back up the stairs I looked out the window to the chicken coop. I do this every time I go up and down the stairs. It's sort of silly because I can't really see the chickens in the hen house unless there is sunlight shining straight into the windows. And I don't usually see the chickens in the far side of the run, the only part of the run I can see from the house, because they're usually over by the feeders stuffing themselves.
I looked over to the run and saw something weird. There was a white blob. A chicken? It could be, but they didn't usually hold that still, and not squished up so close to the wall. A foreign object of some sort? Something was up.
I headed out to the coop. Sometimes my mind jumps to awful conclusions, but generally those prove to be unfounded and ridiculous. Preparing myself for the worst I guess. But in this case, the worst had happened. As I cleared the hen house and came in view of the run, I saw a dead chicken. One that had been clearly snacked on. I vaguely noticed other bodies and feathers everywhere. I had to peek in the hen house. I half expected a deranged, bloodied animal to leap out at me, but no such thing. Just another half dozen dead chickens. There wasn't a movement in the whole coop or run, besides feathers drifting about. That meant all 19 were dead. I think I was in a sort of fight or flight shock state at this point. I needed backup.
I went into the house for Jeremy.

"Jeremy," I said as I walked through the kitchen. He didn't hear me.

"Jeremy." I said it my most serious something-horrible-has-happened voice. He heard me that time. I could hear him jump up from the computer.

"Do you need me to come down?" he asked, as he started to head down.

"Yes." Again, my very serious voice.

"Is it an emergency?" Jeremy wanted to know if he should walk down the stairs or run, and if he should call 911 - yep, he recognizes this tone of  voice.

"Well, it's not anymore. They're all dead!"

We headed back out to the yard so Jeremy could survey the massacre. He put his arms around me. The adrenaline was wearing off and I suddenly felt weak in the knees and had to sit down. He was very comforting for someone who was also very upset. Of course, he knew what he was coming out to see whereas it was a surprise for me. And I always seem to be the one to find the dead chickens!

We talked briefly about what to do. Should we bag them up and throw them away? It seemed wrong somehow to do that. We would dig a hole and bury them. I was worried. That would have to be a VERY big hole! But Jeremy was determined. We changed into grubby clothes and grabbed shovels. We decided to bury them in one of the garden beds. We dug up half of the bed, piling the dirt in the other half. At one point I dug up a little grub-like insect and immediately picked it up to give to the chickens. They would love this...oh. That's right.
We each picked up chickens and laid them in the ground. We fit 10 in then piled dirt on them and dug out the other half of the bed. Nine more chickens were laid to rest. I also raked up as many of the feathers as I could get and added them to the grave. We replaced all the dirt and smoothed everything over.

"We should be intentional about what we plant in this bed," I said. "Sort of like a memorial to the chickens."

Jeremy thought about it for a moment. "Well," he said, "no root vegetables." Agreed!

We decided to plant a tomato there and some lettuce. We'll have to wait a while longer on both, but that's the plan.

I wandered around the exterior of the coop and began noticing signs. Big paw prints. Signs of digging by the fence on the north side. Signs of probable pacing or running back and forth around the whole chicken compound, the killer trying to get in. And, what I had noticed almost right away, the brick keeping the door to the run closed was about a foot away from where it should be. Like something had forced the door open, sliding the brick out of the way. We remodeled part of the run a month or so ago and hadn't quite finished the door and latch part. Given the attack in the middle of the day and the killing of everything in sight without really eating anything, we both figured it was a dog. Well, the somewhat clear dog prints helped confirm that. I wondered at one point if there had been two dogs. There was just so much destruction.

I posted a Facebook message about our loss and messages of sympathy came pouring in. Then this morning I saw a post from a neighbor a couple blocks away. She had seen two large dogs coming out of our yard yesterday and called Animal Control to report it. Wow. Practically caught in the act! Our friends didn't know what the dogs had been up to though.

With that information, I sent an email on a listserv to our entire neighborhood.

Dear neighbors, Do you (or someone you know) own two big grey dogs? Did your dogs get loose from your yard yesterday and go running around the neighborhood? Did they come back a bit messy, perhaps with feathers on them? If so, I can tell you what your dogs were up to. They were attacking and killing our entire flock of chickens. We had 19 beautiful girls, just about a year old. They were safely penned in their coop and run – or so we thought. Your dogs managed to get the gate open. We were away from home having an Easter meal with family and came home to find the scene of the massacre.  We will be starting over again and we’ll be making our gate and fence stronger. We would appreciate it if you could fix your gate/fence so your dogs can’t get out and do this again. If you want to take responsibility and reimburse us for our loss, please contact us off-list. 
More messages of sympathy came pouring in. Then, an email from another neighbor. A neighbor of hers had found two grey dogs roaming the neighborhood and had caught them. They had found the owners somehow and the dogs had been returned home. It looks pretty likely that these are the dogs. We're working to track down the information of these people. I'm not sure if anything will come of it. Will the dog's owners take responsibility? Or will they claim innocence? Worse, will they said they were "just chickens," so who cares? I don't know.

In the meantime, we're feeling sad about the whole situation. I've heard of people losing their whole flock to one thing or another - usually animal attacks. We probably got a little lax after 6 uneventful years of chicken-keeping. There's a first time for everything. And hopefully this will be the last time!

We plan to start over with new chicks, maybe in a few weeks. Personally, I need time to consider the whole thing, adjust, and prepare.