Beware of the Predators…

…because they are out there and their hungry!

I’m not kidding, you do need to think carefully about how to manage the predator population because predators are probably the biggest reason for chicken loss in backyard flocks. Lots of animals prey on chickens and once they have your address they will lurk and lurk, just waiting for their chance to get a good meal.

Our coop is heavily fortified by design.

DSC03821

We have a chicken wire enclosure over the top of the run that keeps most critters out quite effectively.   I’ve often heard that raccoons can tear right through chicken wire but we haven’t had that happen yet.

DSC03820

Several inches of the wooden boards at the bottom of the run are buried in soil.  Michael says that he’d bury the wire on the sides twelve inches deep if he were to do it again.

DSC03822

We lock the door to their house with a clasp at night and the small chicken door is locked most nights as well.

IMG_4041

We have a fenced in open area that’s accessible to the chickens from the covered run but we reserve that, along with yard and garden ranging, for days when we’re outside keeping watch and serving as deterrents.

We’ve seen a bobcat, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, skunks, hawks and even fisher cats here at the edge of the woods.  All of these creatures love to eat chicken for dinner. We’ve lost a few hens to hawks and on one occasion a raccoon squeezed through a small gap in the screening of the run and killed one chicken while literally scaring another to death. To this day we’re not sure what saved the rest. I’ve spent many hours watching hawks circle overhead or sit on top of the run just waiting for their chance…

IMG_6911

If you were a chicken, wouldn’t you be scared if this hawk was watching over you?

IMG_0731

Here’s a fisher cat that we trapped before the chicken days. We had no idea of what it was when Michael and the kids found it in the trap but it’s hiss was vicious!

So, we don’t let our chickens range much without supervision. We also keep a pretty close eye on the edge of the woods, we have a lot (a LOT) of foot traffic in our yard which prevents some predator presence and we design our chickens’ space to be as safe as is reasonably possible. I think that’s why we loose more chickens to old age than to predators.

DSC03819It might be why they look pretty content most of the time too.

Or that could be because of the oatmeal… but that’s another post…

Enjoy everything!

Michele

The Beautiful Sweet Buff Orpington

IMG_9683If we could only raise one breed of chicken in our flock, I would choose the Buff Orphington. I think of this breed as the golden retriever of the chicken world. Their fluffy, yellow, friendly, obedient, loyal, and great with kids and adults. They’ll sit in your lap, come when you call and play with you. This is a family-friendly chicken!

IMG_0665

A newborn buff orphington is a cute little yellow fluff ball and it grows up to be a wise, sweet creature that you can take anywhere.

IMG_4575

I take chickens into schools sometimes and this is the breed that I choose for those events. I can put one down on a tarp with twenty first graders sitting around the perimeter and she’ll just stand there politely waiting for the presentation to start. Then she will allow all twenty kids to pet her (one at a time of course) and repeat the process for three more classes during the day. I’ve even had one lay an egg in the classroom a few feet away from the children during a presentation. This is a laid back, happy chicken.

These girls are good layers, winter hardy, docile and sweet… if your trying to decide what type of chicken to start with or add to your existing flock you just can’t go wrong with a buff orphington!

Michele

Let’s Talk About that Brooder…

Yesterday you saw the brooder that we used for our first chicks, and for many others that have come along since then.

IMG_2940

As I mentioned we made it out of a twenty gallon glass aquarium that we’ve used over the years as a temporary home for creatures that need care. Many wounded birds and stray frogs have spent a few hours in that aquarium. To set it up we simply cleaned it thoroughly, put a shop light with a  60 watt bulb on top of the wire screened lid and filled the bottom with wood chips. The wood gives the chicks something to scratch at, sleep on and absorbs poop which helps with the almost daily cleaning that needs to be done.

We like to use the tall red and white water distributors and round feeders that you see above.  You can buy these at your local feed store or on-line. We find that the specially designed feeders are worth the investment because they stand up to all of the pushing, pulling and scampering that baby chicks do.

The warm light along with towels draped over the sides at night when the heat is down maintain an inside temperature is 95 degrees for the first week, then 5 degrees lower for each week after.  I should mention that our chicks stay in the glass brooder for just a few weeks before they get too big and we move them to a larger metal cage that’s also cloaked with towels to keep heat in. We gradually remove the towels and light over the cage as they outgrow them as well. We also lower the lightbulb from 60 to 40 watts as they get  bigger in the aquarium, then back up to 60 again when we move them to the much airier cage.

The “aquarium as brooder” idea isn’t really the typical route that most people take, but it’s worked very well for us. It’s easy to move as needed and it gives us a great view of our new flock in action. You can find lots of other brooder systems by googling “brooder”, or checking Pinterest. People are really creative and I’ve seen brooders made from kiddie pools, plastic bins, even a portacrib! Really, if the chicks are safe and the temperature, food and cleanliness level are correct they’ll be fine.

We’ve been fortunate to have never lost a chick in our aquarium brooder, which leads me to sad news; our beloved aquarium “bit the bullet” as Michael would say and had to be thrown out last fall. Now we’re searching for a new one, or a good idea for our next brooder. Stay tuned… it’s coming soon!

Questions, questions… I know you have them! Leave them for me and I’ll answer them as best I can. Maybe some of my chicken raising friends who are following will step forward to give their input too… come on, I know your nearby!

Enjoy everything!

Michele

IMG_2939

In the Beginning… Our Very First Day as Chicken Keepers

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to structure this chicken series. I’m hoping that it will be useful to aspiring keepers so I’m working on organizing my posts in a way that will be most helpful.  That said, I’m just going to start at the beginning of our journey…

IMG_1348Here’s day one, March 31, 2007, twenty minutes after our first chickens arrived..

Knowing that we had been thinking about getting chickens, our friend Chip brought these three Silver Laced Wyandottes to us. A friend had ordered a shipment of fifteen or twenty and needed to re-home a few.

IMG_1347

There was some excitement around here that day!

Because they were a bit of a surprise and we weren’t really prepared we had a wooden box for them to live in. But fear not, we quickly made a nice warm brooder using an aquarium.

On the kitchen counter of course…

IMG_1360We named them Sunny, Chip and Brady and they all lived for many years. We just lost Chip (the chicken, not our friend) a few months ago.

IMG_1366

We were having fun with our new passion!. I remember the kids spending a lot of time up on that chair talking to the girls.

But we had so so much to learn, and we did, one step at a time..

You can too!

Enjoy Everything!

Michele

Thinking About Raising Chickens? Well You’ve Come to the Right Place!

DSC01497

And that’s because I herby declare March 2014 to be Chicken Month at The Salem Garden! If a crocus or snowdrop decides to miraculously appear in our garden you’ll see it before the camera cools down, but I’m going to focus on chicken keeping for a few weeks. This is the time of the year when most keepers in the northern hemisphere add new chickens or start a flock.  I’m hoping to cover a range of chicken related topics– everything from breeds, to equipment, to daily care.  Starting a new flock is easier and harder than you might think. With a little bit of information and some planning yours will be wonderful! What are your questions? Leave them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them in the posts that I’m working on.

Consider The Salem Garden to be Chicken Central for a little while (actually it already is, I can hear our girls out there enjoying the morning air).

Cluck, cluck!

Michele

Winter Garden Coop Jam

IMG_4672

It’s winter, that’s it…

IMG_4674

There’s a rosemary plant hiding under the barrel, rock and large clump of dirt, lol. It will be a miracle if this plant makes it through this extremely unbelievably cold, long winter. That sprig of thyme will though…

IMG_4685

A single egg

IMG_4691

but fear not! There’s a traffic jam at the nesting box. More are on the way!
IMG_4701

I turned around and here she was, patiently waiting her turn. This chicken reminds me of my oldest daughter, she’d be doing the same thing.

IMG_4704

It does my heart good to see them waiting at the door again.

IMG_4706See you later sweetie pie.

Enjoy everything!

Michele

What Do Chickens Do In The Winter?

I know, your all wondering… how are the girls? Are they cold? What are they doing?

I’m asked this so often, I thought that today would be the perfect day to talk about it.

It’s this cold out today! seriously cold…

DSC01467

Win and I took a walk down to check on the chickens. They were right there, greeting us like they always do.

DSC01468

I didn’t have a treat handy, but I’ll find something to take down later. This is their hopeful scramble… Dad is much better at remembering to take them things. Actually, he probably would have taken them homemade oatmeal or something…

DSC01470

Oreo didn’t care if I was there, she was staying inside. She’s one of our original hens. I think she arrived in 2007, our first chicken year.

DSC01471

There’s a heater.

DSC01473 along with the oatmeal… I sense a pattern here.  It’s said that they don’t need heat, and I don’t think they do, but we feel better with just a little bit of heat to take the edge off.

Here’s their friend Zoe. She has a very nice hutch but she lives in the coop when it’s super cold out

DSC01474

They still lay eggs, at a slower rate, but it happens.  We do put a light on for a little while at night to prolong their day time just a bit. The production slows down but it doesn’t quite stop completely.

DSC01476

They also take turns sitting in this chair.

DSC01483

and enjoying the view.

DSC01489

sounds good to me  🙂

Stay warm today!

Michele

The Mystery of the Missing Eggs

So, we have fifteen chickens and we’re suddenly only getting an egg or two a day. I think their hiding them somewhere. I’ve looked high and low, in every nook and cranny. I can’t find the eggs anywhere! We  let them free range later in the day, but it’s too late for all of them to be waiting to lay eggs out there. What do you think? Have any of you chicken raisers had your whole flock suddenly stop laying for no apparent reason? Help please! Leave a comment if you have any thoughts or ideas!

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to consider my dilemma! We eat a lot of eggs here… I’m going to have to go buy some soon!

Love you lots!

Michele