THE OFFICIAL BLOG
For over six years now we have raised our flock of Buff Orpington chickens. We range as many as 75 and as few as 25 at a time. We also always keep at least two roosters out with the hens every day, all day. I have bragged on these roosters for all of these years - having never had an issue with the boys fighting or otherwise causing trouble. I had been told that roosters will fight if there aren't enough girls to go around and I was always sure to keep the rooster-hen ratio just right. And I patted myself on the back, too. MY roosters NEVER fight because I am the chicken whisperer....
But a few weeks ago we found both of our mature roosters bloody and huddled in the cold rain. Honestly, we were stumped as far as what had happened to them. Equally wounded and missing a fair amount of feathers, we speculated that perhaps they had both nobly fought off an attacker in the rain. Or maybe the peacocks beat the poor sweet boys mercilessly when we were not looking. We even hypothetically blamed Loreto the Donkey because he's usually to blame for just about everything.
Things were quiet for a couple of weeks after that. The wounds mostly healed with just a few tale-tell scars left behind. It was peaceful.
And then we caught them fighting. Brutally fighting. Neither one ran. Neither one showed any signs of backing down. They went after one another for at least an hour before we got out the water hose and tried to break things up. It didn't work. We had bloody, angry, WET roosters fighting in the driveway.
With no clue what to do, one of the kids rounded up one of the roosters into one of the chicken coops for some solitary confinement so they could both heal while we contemplated our next steps. But the roosters stalked one another and fought as best they could through the coop wire day in and day out. It was obvious that these two were never going to call a truce. We ultimately decided to release the caged rooster and let the two of them work it out in whatever way was going to be best for our flock. Apparently, the best thing was for one of them to win. The other is gone. Not necessarily dead by rooster-fight.. but gone. We are not asking any questions about his whereabouts now. It's sad. But it's over.
So what happened? Both roosters had enough hens between them. They also had plenty of territory to claim for their own without infringing on the other with just over 17 acres to roam. Food is plentiful this time of year and I have always been sure to do any supplemental feeding at at least two different locations during the day so that the boys can claim their own space. They were raised together as chicks and have been together for two years without previous incident. Everything I have ever read about keeping roosters together successfully had been covered. And ... Don't forget.. We had been doing it for six years without a problem. And, hello? Chicken whisperer? Remember?
I think this falls on these particular roosters. Yes, they were raised together, but more importantly they were exactly the same age. They both reached full hormonal maturity at the same time this spring. They also were evenly matched in size - so much so that it was pretty hard to tell them apart most of the time.
In the past I had always kept one mature rooster with the hens while I raised the secondary rooster from a different batch of chicks. What this meant was that we always had at least one older rooster who was boss. The younger roosters would challenge him when they came into their own - but it really didn't take much other than a good display of awesomeness to send the younger boys running back into the little territories they had carved out for themselves.
Given the fact that we exclusively free-range, we rarely kept a single rooster for a full two years. Roosters do tend to end up getting themselves uh... eliminated... in the process of looking after the flock. So we would often lose that boss rooster who would be replaced by one of the younger roosters... while we grew out another young rooster... and so on. This time.. it didn't happen that way. Both of these roosters, exactly the same age, managed to survive a full two years... There was no boss rooster and young challenger. Just two bosses and one flock of hens. And me, chicken whisperer, paying absolutely no attention to what was going on....
We will be growing out a young rooster to take up secondary position by the end of this summer and will be paying close attention to stature and attitude this time. Hopefully, as long as one or the other of them will just LOOK LIKE a clear winner - there will be no more need for fighting. In the meantime, we have peace... and one bedraggled, yet victorious, rooster.
When we acquired our first donkey, we thought we would keep her in a barn stall overnight and then set her out to roam and graze our property during the day. She was such a tiny thing and so cute and would be a joy to halter every morning for the routine. Except. The first problem was that she was as wild as any ass in the desert and wouldn't let me anywhere near her to halter. The second problem was that this tiny little donkey managed to kick down the stall gate within the first 48 hours of her time here.
Such problems continued with our plans as we acquired more donkeys. For quite a while they were housed in a large fenced area behind our main barn with access to the barn itself for shelter. But our jack, Loreto, is prone to boredom and bored toddler type destruction. The boy wrecked our barn. Then he turned his attention to our chickens and goats.
We spent several weeks over a previous summer building a low barbed wire fence around the immediate perimeter of the cleared area around our house and barn so as to give the donkeys more room to range and play -- and curb frustration and boredom. It worked. They were no longer bored. They were completely entertained by eating all of our trees and shrubs and accessible outbuildings. Oh.. and grass. Every. blade. of. grass.
So then came the Okay. New Plan. part of this story: we bit the bullet and hired a good company out of Tulsa to build us a pole-barn type building. It was a slightly strange request as I was looking for a run-in or loafing shed - but wanted it to be large enough to take care of future needs including weather-safe stalls if necessary. The result was a 20 x 30 foot steel building totally enclosed on three sides and totally open on one long side -- an over-sized loafing shed.
We also enclosed a little less than one half acre of a nice wooded area with cattle panel for them to play in when they aren't out with us. There are tweaks to be made to the fence as we put it up as quickly as possible to get them moved in. We also have a few frustrations to work out on the building itself as the pad takes on all of the drainage from our driveway and is staying pretty wet -- too wet for donkeys -- during all of this rain. Some more grade work and ditch-digging will take care of that.
We are using the corral panels that we had already purchased to make barn stalls inside the shed. We are short one gate panel before we can put together two stalls which will do for the time being as we are expecting two foals this summer. Ultimately, we would need four more gate panels and $360 more dollars. And, honestly, after all of this construction that's not currently in the budget.
I think maybe our barn-building guys thought I was a little touched in the head to be having all of this built for these tiny little donkeys. And I may actually be a little touched in the head, but I think it will all work out just right when it is done. I mean, the donkeys are here to stay and they are well worth it.
And once the tack hooks, solar lights, and decorations are all in place - we will be able to move on to all of the other little projects we have neglected for years - such as planting trees without having to build fences around them. Maybe someday we will even buy a park bench ... and then we will sit on it... and relax and enjoy all of the work we have done. Maybe. I can dream anyway.
I know that this COVID-19 disaster has caused major upheaval and, yes, tragedy in so many lives. I acknowledge the gravity of it. Which is also why I write this post in a spirit of gratitude. I am grateful that our daily lives have not been impacted much at all so far.
The first change for us was not going out for weekly archery lessons. We all miss our coach and the rest of the archery team. And I may even miss the pleasant drive all the way to Coweta (though I do not miss the drive back. I'm sure you understand how that could be so.). But not having to leave the house on Mondays has meant a less hectic start to the school week and a pretty sharp reduction in the amount of gas I need to purchase in a month.
And of course, I mentioned school. I can only imagine how disruptive it would be to have to bring your children home from school in the middle of a semester. I can only imagine because we homeschool. Our daily school routine has continued as it has for years. There is only minor inconvenience when ordered books required for online courses take a couple of extra weeks to get here because of COVID-related shipping delays. It doesn't matter much... we aren't on a schedule so classes start when the books get here... whenever that is.
My husband is the one who has had to adapt to the biggest changes once he was asked to work from home starting over a month ago. Mind you, it wasn't an unwelcome suggestion. We are both happy that he has been able to remain employed through all of this... and we, frankly, love having him here working from home. It happens to be something we always wished he would be able to do (and we will all be sad when things return to 'normal' and he has to commute in to the office once again). It just so happens that we have a comfortable office space down in the barn where he can work in private and is only occasionally interrupted by hens screaming their egg song of victory or a bleating goat.
The hardest change is not having access to Mass. Online streaming is nice for a sense of community and all, but as Catholics not having access to the sacraments (which are a visible sign of a grace received... emphasis on visible.. tangible.. in person) is tough-going. Our daily prayers continue unabated and we look forward to the restoration of public Mass in the future. God willing.
As a small farm, these times have been interesting. In the beginning of the crisis we were swamped with requests for chicks, hens, roosters, eggs, geese, goats milk, meat rabbits... Anything and everything that people felt they would need to make their family more self-sufficient in the event of a long-term disaster.
The demand has died down now. And, unfortunately, I don't think that it is because everyone is ready to take care of themselves. I am pretty sure that a bit of complacency has already settled in again. Maybe even on our part as we are no where near as self-sufficient as we had planned to be following the first large-scale disaster we survived.
Mostly I am talking about food. We have chickens and eggs. We even have enough eggs to have been able to start offering some for sale to the local community during a time in which it has apparently been harder to find them in stores. But surviving on chickens and eggs alone is for only the harshest of times. And this is not yet the harshest of times. I am disappointed that we still have to go to the grocery store for staples and wish I had already set up a network with friends and neighbors who own cows for our butter and milk. I wish we had a chest freezer full of beef and pork -- and a friend to buy more from. I wish my vegetable garden did not crash totally and completely with late freezes and too much rain. I wish squash bugs did not exist.
The lesson learned here when this is over... Please - if this is ever over... Is to make those connections in earnest so that we are not at all dependent on a long food supply chain.
In the meantime, we have enough of what we need and are fortunate to be able to somewhat enjoy this slow and quiet time all together at home. We are praying for everyone out there as they navigate all of the uncertainty and fear. And if there is anything we can help you with - please let us know. A grace shared is a grace multiplied.
After years of navigating methods of maintaining bedding in the chicken coop....
I think I have finally found what really works for us.
First, you need to understand that our chickens free-range so when I say 'coop' I am talking about the secure building where they roost overnight. Some of our older girls do prefer to lounge about in the coop during the day as well - but for the most part this is not a 24/7 coop and run.
Second, it's a pretty large coop. It's actually a pre-fab 10 x 16 lofted cabin that we converted to a coop a few years ago. It can easily and comfortably house quite a number of grown chickens over night. This summer it has been evening home to about 30 chickens, I think... But who's counting?
The problem that I have always had - which I know is common to chicken-owners everywhere - is finding some way to keep the coop clean. I have always prefered the deep-bedding method, especially in winter when the composting manure and bedding keep things cozy. In summer, however, the stench and the flies - OH THE FLIES - are less than ideal.
I experimented with different litter - from hay and straw to sawdust and back to regular old pine shavings. The problem was not the litter. The problem was the poo. Most books suggest using diatomaceous earth mixed with the bedding to reduce moisture, parasites, and odors. I tried that too. I wanted it to work. However, having a large coop meant needing a large amount of DE to get the job done. Also, simply handling the bags of DE sent me into coughing fits for days and the chickens fared no better - I had problems with respiratory illnesses in my birds whenever I did use the DE. Unfortunately, there was another major problem: it did not actually help. DE is pretty much useless once it gets wet... And I ended up with a nasty dirty sludge of wet DE underneath the bedding which I had to scrape up -- adding to my coop cleaning chores. Oh, and did I mention that DE is not actually as cheap as the internet likes to tell you it is? I was shelling out $25 per week just to keep the chicken coop powdered in DE which didn't seem to do anything other than make everyone sneeze. So.. scratch that.
I also tried the 'no litter' method during the hot summer months. What this meant was scraping overnight poo off the coop floor every morning and toting it off to the compost bin. Not only was it something akin to torture to wake up every morning looking forward to scraping chicken poo... but as the days got hotter and longer there was no way to stay ahead of the flies or the smell. And since the clean-up was always wet - and my cleaning methods also required the use of some amount of water to remove the sticky bits.. the coop maintained a level of dampness during the humid summer that was ... not good.
This summer I decided to try something totally new. I was convinced it wouldn't work, of course.. but I had to say I tried. After spring clean-up - I bought 1 ten pound bag of the cheapest all-purpose flour I could find (the store brand flour was $3.98 per bag) and three large boxes of store brand baking soda (at 98 cents each). I mixed it all together in a bucket and then layered it in to a thick layer of pine shavings bedding on the floor of the coop. Then I sat back and waited.
Okay, not really. I still turned over the bedding every morning... but that's a lot more like waiting than scraping up icky poo every morning.
Something amazing happened. There was no fly problem in the coop this summer. There was a fly problem, of course. But not in the coop. And there was no stench. Not that it smelled like one of those trees you put on your rearview mirror in there... but it did not stink to the point of gagging even on the hottest of days... it just smelled like... chickens.
Also... no respiratory issues this year... no mites... and... the final test....
After four extremely hot and humid months - I cleaned out the old bedding in preparation for fall and all of the bedding was perfectly dry. It was light and easy to move. It was not clumped together. It was not even composting.
If you can't tell how clean it was from the tractor picture above, then perhaps this will convince you: Did I mention that we floored our chicken coop with leftover wood laminate planks? You know, the kind of floor that does not hold up well to a lot of moisture? The floor tells it all. After removing the bulk of the bedding I was able to sweep the rest of the coop clean... After four months of heavy use.
The best part? I did not have to use any funky chemicals to get the results I wanted this year. And bonus - it was super cheap and convenient.
I won't be adding flour and baking soda to the new bedding as fall and winter approach as I will be wanting this bedding to compost to keep the coop toasty on cold nights. But you can bet I'll be heading to the baking aisle in the spring.
When we first moved up here I had zero idea what sorts of things we could grow or not grow. I was used to planting on the coast where summer was basically perpetual and winter consisted of about a week of sweater weather in January. Selecting trees was fairly simple: if it could handle unbearable heat, constant humidity, wet ground, and daily rain showers - it would grow with not a lot of effort from me.
Being clueless, yet enthusiastic, we picked up fruit trees from local nurseries - assuming that if it could be found in a local nursery then it would grow locally. That was silly, of course.
We bought several fig trees our first year here. They grew beautifully. Then they froze solid in the winter. The following spring there was no sign of them... But by mid-summer we were excited to see new growth from the roots. Being late starting, the trees did not have long to grow - let alone bear fruit. The same thing happened the following year.
Oh. So this is how winter works. Really. That was a revelation for me. Not wanting to give up - I formulated a plan and searched around on the internet for people who had grown fig trees in places where fig trees did not want to grow.... I found some basic advice on winterizing fruit trees and ran with it.
Every fall as the nights get cold and the danger of frost approaches, we go out and strip all the leaves off the little fig trees, trim the stems back to the oldest growth, tie the branches together to form a cone, and wrap it in several layers of burlap - being sure to not leave any gaps at the bottom near the ground. The very top is left open for air flow. When there is danger of a hard freeze - we cover the entire thing with plastic contractor-sized bags.
We have been pampering our fig trees this way for three winters. Though they were faster returning in the spring - the growth was not substantial over the season... and I was beginning to think figs in NE Oklahoma were a lost cause... Until this year! Finally, the trees have grown to the point that wrapping them this year will be a challenge... and....
They are absolutely loaded with large ripening figs. It is so exciting to finally see our persistence begin to pay off!
This year I am actually looking forward to tucking our little fruit trees in for the winter - because now I know it's worth the extra effort. Now if I could figure out how to overwinter citrus trees, I will be set.....
When we opened up the website and the blog a couple of months ago, I reactivated my old Google Adsense account as a matter of course. I have never and will never generate enough traffic to make a living off of internet ads, but it was nice back in the day to pick up enough money to buy popsicles for the kids or something out of basically nowhere.
Apparently, things have changed.
I thought it was pretty cool that everything at Adsense is automated now. No more fiddling around with scripts for ad placement - Google promised to just insert ads in suitable places on the website automatically. I signed up with the new website, clicked the 'auto ads' button, and.... nothing happened.
Hmmm... I assumed I missed a step in the setup process and decided to just leave it all as is because the extra work wasn't worth a couple of popsicles per year.
A few days later I noticed a couple little ads showing up in the sidebar of the blog. Okay. There was a delay, I see. Cool. And then I forgot about it all for real.
Having been busy with putting the new online store together, it has been quite a while since I have personally taken a look at the content pages of the rest of the website. I mean, I have seen it all before... It would be really weird to look at our own website every day. Maybe. As a matter of fact, my husband does not even read my blog posts. I am talking to you, Dave.
On a complete whim (and also because I was procrastinating about going to bed), I started clicking through the navigation menu on the website tonight. And that's when I saw them: IRRITATING BLINKING GAUDY IRRELEVANT ADS EVERYWHERE. Everywhere. They were crammed between pictures... between paragraphs... at the top of the pages... at the bottom... There were five or six of them per page.
And I have no idea how long it has been like that. Apparently, once our website traffic started to go up a little bit, the Google bots went into full berserker mode and populated every blank space which I had wanted to remain blank with some annoying ad.
I am pretty old-school and remember a time when the internet was more than click-bait and pop-up ads. I remember actual content and actual people and actual information. It is a shame that it seems to have gone the way of the print magazine -- 50 pages of glossy full-page ads to get to a ten paragraph article.
If you had been subjected to any of this before tonight on our website, please accept my sincerest apologies. I have disabled auto ads. Or.. I think I have... In the same way that turning auto ads on did nothing for a few days, turning auto ads off does not seem to do much either. Soon... hopefully very soon... they should go back to wherever they came from.
Now to actually go to bed...
Posted by Anita
Will just buy her own popsicles.
Fourteen days ago, on July 16th we began construction of our new chicken grow-out pen using a framing kit we bought online at EZ Frame Structures. First, anyone with critical thinking skills should be skeptical of products with 'EASY' in the name... and downright dismissive of products which abbreviate it to 'EZ'. It was not easy (or EZ) at all. But more on that later.
Right now I would like to revel in the fact that we are finally done! Or.. done enough. There are a few details we still have to work out... But.. done enough to move the monster chicks out of the brooder and into their new and spacious outdoor enclosure.
Why we took our time.
This project took more time and more materials than most of those we have taken on in the past, but there were a couple of factors which made this so. First, the memory of losing goslings in a less fortified grow-out pen was fresh on our minds. We were wanting this pen to be solid, heavy, and safe. Also, we are moving past the stage of homesteading where we are content throwing up temporary structures that are heavy on utility but light on aesthetics. It has taken years to figure out what we need as well as what we want. It's an ongoing learning process.. and it's very hands on. No matter how many pins I saved on Pinterest - they never really helped us figure out what would work for us.
When we acquired our first substantial number of goslings we did what most people do these days: We went to the internet and searched for basic care information. Most of what we found assured us that geese and other waterfowl have higher protein feed requirements than chickens and it was suggested that we feed either a game bird feed or a feed specially formulated for waterfowl. Easy enough. We knew that we would be free-ranging our adult flock on grass someday, but our young birds would need supplemental feed until they were grown. There were plenty of formulated feeds in the feed store with pictures of geese and ducks on the package.
What we did not find during that initial search was information on Angel Wing Syndrome - and so, as with most things out here, we had to learn the hard way.
It does not matter how long we have been doing this, or how many times things go horribly wrong and we get through it. When we lose any animals, the heartbreak is the same. It means we are human, I tell the kids, We know by the pain we feel that we have lost none of our humanity along the way. And none of that reassurance in our humanity dulls the ache -- or quells the fear.
When I tell people that we inevitably lose some poultry each year to predators, I do not often see any surprise register on their faces. Honestly, I think I might be able to hear them thinking: "Sure. That's what happens when you insist on free-ranging your animals, you ding-bat." Sometimes my confession is followed up by their testimony (which confirms that my mind-reading skills are on target), "We will be keeping ours in a safe coop and run. So, no worries."
No worries. If only.
While it is true that we have a chicken missing periodically - the likely victim of a hungry hawk or a late morning fox on the prowl for a snack - most of our losses have not actually had anything to do with free-ranging. Nothing compares to the losses we have sustained inside safe enclosures. And I mean nothing compares - by any measure and not just quantity. The chicken who comes up missing at the mid-morning roll call does not compare to the discovery of an entire grow-out flock helplessly torn to bits. Waking up the morning after your safe enclosure was no longer safe is a punch in the gut.
The story of our first goats.
Our sudden and somewhat impulsive move to Oklahoma in December of 2013 was tumultuous and it took several months to even begin to be in a position to start acquiring poultry and livestock. Having said that, I realize that we were not entirely ready then and had we been more reasonable people we would have given ourselves a year or more to get settled in before throwing live animals into the mix. But with experience comes such wisdom - and we lacked both.
We also lacked patience. We had gone through a lot to get here and time was passing. Back then, we still worked on suburban time -- expecting things to happen in hours and days rather than months and even years like it does out here.
I had done my research. Long before the move I had poured over every goat book I could get my hands on. I spent hours watching YouTube videos and reading the best and worst blogs that offered goat advice and information. I had decided that we wanted to raise Kinder goats. They were a newly recognized breed - a hybrid of a Pygmy and Nubian - which promised to offer all the good things you get from a meat goat and a milk goat in a moderately-sized package. There was also the advantage of these goats being a fairly rare breed which would mean that we would be forced to take our time finding exactly the right goats at exactly the right time.
Or at least until May of 2014 - which was probably not exactly the right time. There happened to be a Craigslist ad for registered Kinder goats for sale within driving distance of us. What are the chances? It was like destiny. We made arrangements with the seller and rented a horse trailer to go pick up our goats of destiny.
At this point, even in retrospect, I cannot say with certainty that we had done anything regrettable regarding the purchase of our first livestock animals. We had: 1) Done our research, 2) Decided on a breed which would be well-suited to our needs and resources, 3) Committed to that breed, and 4) Decided to buy registered stock from a registered breeder.
Here we are on the third blog post and I already have to say it: Okay. New Plan.
And it is all because we don't fence our animals.
We fence our trees.
The disadvantage of letting donkeys, goats, pigs, chickens, geese, or some combination of those and others wander around our entire property most of the time rather than confining them to tidy paddocks or grazing areas, is that it makes it pretty difficult to start young trees or grow a garden. Sure, they have over 14 acres of untouched woodland to explore and munch on, but the little apple tree that Dave just planted just plain tastes better.
We figured all of that out rather quickly and made sure to wrap the bases of young trees with netting to prevent bark-stripping - and fence the youngest saplings entirely to preserve them. It is extra work and it is a bit unsightly, but we would rather do all of that than not give the critters the most room to roam with us every day.
We fenced our house.
We also installed a chain link fence around our house so that we could plant flowers and vegetable gardens that would not be turned into dust baths - and to keep the sidewalks free of poo. That has worked out pretty well for us over the last few years. We keep goslings and chicks grazing within the chainlink of our front yard when they are growing out, but send them outside once they are tall enough to reach the raised gardens.
Sending them out was a precautionary measure that I was sure we would never need as the geese have never shown any interest in our flowers or vegetable plants - preferring the bermuda grass and chickweed out in the open areas.
I used the word 'never' far too many times in that sentence above. I should know better. And I'm sure you have already guessed that the next thing I am going to say is: Until now.