Sunday, April 17, 2016

Instinct is an amazing thing

Animals and their instincts have always amazed me, especially in domesticated animals. I think many times we don't realize that, at one time, many, many years ago, these same animals were wild, and had to fend for themselves; they didn't have food, water, and shelter provided for them.  I have really witnessed the amazing instincts of a domesticated animal in one of my chickens that went broody (broody means the hen wants to sit on a nest and hatch eggs.)

It's rather difficult to break a hen of her broodiness.  Why is it an issue you ask? Well, for one thing, a broody hen will stop laying, so your egg production goes down. And, sometimes she will not eat and drink properly, and lose weight, thus putting her health at risk.
 Twila, the chicken in the above picture, went broody several months ago.  I watched her habits. I knew that she was getting off the nest, and eating and drinking. She was not endangering her health, so her broodiness was not affecting her health. She is obviously a smart broody. After trying to break her of the broodiness a few times, I decided to put eggs under her. 

Before I moved her and the eggs to a separate coop, she would get off the eggs when another hen was laying her egg, and go out with the rest of the flock. I thought that was pretty smart; she was letting the others keep the eggs warm while she took a break.  I did move her to a separate coop. Several of the eggs she was sitting on had got broken by the other chickens getting in her nest. 
I did find some evidence that she had relieved herself on the nest (maybe when the weather turned, and we had 11 degree nights, and 20 degree days, she was afraid to leave them in the extreme cold), she generally would get off the nest every other day and go outside the coop to relieve herself.  One of the eggs was cracked when I moved her. I still put it under her, and it did break several days later. She came carrying it out of the coop, to discard it.  I found that rather fascinating, that she didn't consume the broken egg, as many times chickens will eat eggs.
As the chicks were hatching, the maternal instinct became even more interesting. 

Twila knew when it was okay to be off the eggs. I sometimes second guessed her decisions, but I now know that she knew exactly what she was doing.  I found one chick, still partially in the shell, in the middle of the coop where she had taken it out of the nest.  Sadly, it wasn't completely formed, and did not survive. She obviously knew it wasn't healthy, and discarded it from the nest. 
After the chicks hatched, watching her motherly instincts has become great source of fascination.

I have raised day old chicks before; received through the USPS.  It's not hard to get them to eat and drink (once again, instinct.) But, it is really heart warming to watch Twila teach them to eat and drink.  She knows when to keep them under her for warmth. The other day, one of the roosters made a warning call.  She quickly hustled them into the nest, and covered them up.   She knows and trusts Murphy the dog. However, he got a bit close to the chicks for her comfort, and she did peck at him. I can only imagine the wrath that would come down on a strange dog. 

I'm sure the instincts of a mother hen will never cease to amaze me. It will be fascinating to watch her take them out into the world, and teach them more about the ways of flock life.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

How I made a glass chicken waterer

Plastic and water.  I do not like the two together. I don't drink commercially bottled water (I have delicious country spring water at my house, so I fill stainless steel bottles and take them with me.) I don't like plastic and water together for my pets (yes, I'm including my chickens in the grouping of pets.)   I was at the mercy of using plastic this winter, having to have a heated water source for the chickens. I made a heated waterer out of a 5 gallon food grade bucket, with a bucket deicer. That's another subject for a blog post.  OH RIGHT, back to not using plastic.  There are galvanized metal chicken waterers on the market.  But since I put apple cider vinegar, and sometimes oregano oil in the chickens' water, I didn't want the metal reacting with these two additions. Such a conundrum for something as simple as a drink of water for a chicken, isn't it! 
Last fall, I fooled around with trying to make a glass waterer, with vertical nipple waterers.  It would have had to involve some kind of elaborate holster, placed at the precise height for chicken comfort, and the nipples tend to drip and make a mess.

This was the one I started last fall. I took one of those large glass dispensers for ice tea, lemonade and such. It would have been flipped upside down, and placed in the holster. There was also the problem of getting a gasket for the lid, to prevent leakage.  I scrapped this idea.
I recently began using my large, commercial plastic chicken waterer again.  After seeing some vintage stoneware waterers, and some small glass waterers that used a quart mason jar, I started designing again.
I already own a Dremel rotary tool, and the diamond bit set.

I purchased the bit set on Amazon, and if you look at the photo, I used the 7th one from the right, the larger round ball. 
 I had this gallon glass jar (from Walmart) that I bought a year or so ago. And, I sacrificed one of my 8 inch glass pie plates. 

The next picture shows where on the jar I drilled the hole. 

The most important thing when drilling glass- don't let it get hot. Slow and steady makes the hole. If it gets hot, it will crack. Drill a bit, stop, and wipe it with a cool wet rag, making sure it's not warm to the touch.  It might have taken me about 10 minutes to get the hole drilled. Glass drilling bits are available on the market, as another option, but I had the Dremel, and the diamond bits, so they are what I used.
 And here I have the final product.


 It is just a bit tricky holding the pie plate on the jar as I turn it over.  Again, slow and steady gets the waterer in place.
I now have a chicken waterer that is completely made of glass. No plastics to leach into the water, no metal to corrode, no epoxy that might also leach into the water. Is it the most convenient way to water chickens? Probably not. Am I recommending that you make one? Only if you feel comfortable drilling glass, and flipping the jar and plate over together. In the end, I'm happy with it, and that is what is important; just sharing my creativity and thought. Cheers, my peeps!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Growin' green

I always feel bad in the winter, that the chickens don't have access to fresh grass.  Giving my Barred Rocks salad greens was never successful. They'd look at me like "you want us to do what with that?"  This winter I decided to grow some grass especially for the chickens. I found these cupcake carriers, and eight inch square cake tins to fit in them, at the Dollar Tree.

 I drilled 4 holes in the bottom, at the corners. You wouldn't have to, but without drainage holes, be sure not to over water.  I already had some organic grass seed and organic soil.

 I filled the pans with soil, and covered the surface with seeds. I lightly covered with soil, and sprayed with water. 

I then put the tins in the cupcake carriers, and set them in front of the window. 


SIGH. NO, Skeeter, it was not meant to be a cat seat.

 Winter rye doesn't need warmth to germinate, so within a few days, I had sprouts. Once the grass starts sprouting, it's good to leave the top off so the soil doesn't develop mold from too much moisture, and kill the sprouts.

My original idea was to build an enclosure to hold the tin, so the chickens could only access the grass sticking out of it.  They'd still pull be able to pull the grass out and kill the plants. I then decided to keep the tins in the house. This way, I cut the grass periodically and feed it to the chickens. I don't, however, give them long blades of grass. For the adult chickens, I chop it to no longer than one inch lengths, probably more like 1/2 inch lengths, and, for the babies in the brooder, I chop it very fine, probably about an 1/8 to a 1/4 of an inch long.  The reason for chopping the grass is that chickens can get an impacted crop by ingesting long blades of grass.

A few of the chickens enjoying some fresh cut grass.

Even the baby chickens devour the grass.

 I also grew some buckwheat since I already had the organic seed.

This is what happens when you give them the tin and leave them to their own devices. Yep. Doesn't last long.

 So, there you have it. An easy, inexpensive way to grow some vitamin packed grass for your chooks in winter.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Natural automatic dishwasher detergent

I try to live as naturally as possible. I eat organic food whenever possible, and feed my chickens organic feed. I also use natural cleaning products, from shampoos and soaps, to household cleaning products;  Too many harmful chemicals in the conventional ones. When I installed my dishwasher a couple of years ago, I of course decided to use a natural detergent. I tried a liquid product, specifically for automatic dishwashers, from a well known natural manufacturer. I wasn't impressed. It seemed to lack cleaning power, and left the glassware and plastics cloudy. It was rather pricey, too.
That's part of my kitchen. I built the cupboards myself, installed the tiles, installed the dishwasher. I did it all myself!

I had been making natural laundry soap for some time, and decided to investigate recipes for dishwasher detergent.  Well, there are quite a few recipes out there. Some have more ingredients than others and different proportions of the same ingredients. I had used a couple of these recipes that I found, and mixed up a batch or two of the detergent. They both worked very well.  After sometime the mixed up batch ran out, I got a bit lazy, and was just adding the ingredients into the wash cup without measuring them.  I'm sure I used more of one or the other than I needed. Today I decided to be structured, and measured out the ingredients, and mix them up. My recipe calls for just three ingredients- regular table salt, citric acid, and washing soda.  The table salt and the washing soda are readily available in grocery stores. Citric acid, not so easy to find, so I order mine through Amazon.

Click on the picture and it will take you to Amazon

Super washing soda is different than regular baking soda.  It's found in the laundry supply isle, usually near the pre-treat products.

No, I don't use a brand name salt. This photo is just to clarify what I mean by table salt. I buy the generic store brand. The less expensive, the better!

 I ran a load with my recipe, and let me tell you- the dishes came out sparkling clean. The glassware very shiny, and the plastics had no film.  I even ran it on a normal cycle, not a super wash or tough scrub. Several of the dishes I'd put in had quite a bit of dried on food, too. They were immaculately clean when finished. So, here is my recipe.  It seems a small batch, and obviously you can mix up more at a time. But you only use two tablespoons for one wash.  It's a 1:1:4 ratio, one part salt, one part citric acid, four parts washing soda.

1/2 cup salt
 1/2 cup citric acid
2 cups washing soda

Even though you will want to keep it in a closed container, I recommend putting a desiccant in with it (a moisture absorbent.)  You know, those little packs that come in so many things these day, that say "don't eat" on them? They even come in shoe boxes!

 Moisture absorbents. I always keep them when they come in vitamins etc. 

As for the rinse agent, white vinegar. Yep.  Fill the rinse agent container with white vinegar.  Vinegar is known to have antimicrobial properties.  Click on antimicrobial if you'd like to read more about its cleaning properties.  
 There you have it! A simple, inexpensive recipe for a natural dishwasher detergent.  According to my math, it costs approximately a $1.80 per recipe batch, probably less because I didn't factor in ounces in the salt and washing soda. ANYHOW, since it only takes two tablespoons for a regular dishwasher load,  there should be approximately 24 washes per recipe.  Eight or so cents a load- pretty inexpensive I'd say. Not to mention that it is also healthier for your family and the environment.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Misconceptions on chicken conception

Having had chickens for some time now, (5 1/2 years,) I sometimes just take for granted the knowledge that I've gained about them, and laying eggs.  Every so often though, I hear someone ask a question, or say something regarding chickens, and I realize that many people don't know that much about them.  So, let me dispel a few rumors if you will. 

Chickens need a rooster to lay eggs

NOT TRUE!  Chickens lay eggs regardless of having a rooster.  I can attest to this, because for five years, I never had a rooster.  And, no, fertilized eggs are no healthier than unfertilized ones.  You wouldn't even be able to tell by looking at the cracked open egg if it was fertilized. Oh, and the white thing you find in the egg, it's called a chalaza. It anchors the yolk within the white. The chalaza is present in unfertilized eggs as well (hens that have never been near a rooster,) so it has absolutely nothing to do with a rooster. 

This is Christian (pronounced like the French version), my French Black Copper Marans rooster. He's the head rooster (I currently have four) and he does an excellent job watching over his girls.

Eggs come out of the chicken soft, and then harden 

NOT TRUE! An egg comes out of the chicken as hard as it will ever get.  Occasionally a chicken will lay a soft egg, but this is not normal, and is due to a lack of calcium or some other issue (maybe she's getting ready to molt.)

 Here's Von, my Welsummer, laying her lovely dark brown egg.

Brown eggs are healthier than white eggs

NOT TRUE!  The color of an egg shell is dependent on the breed of the chicken.  An egg's nutritional value can be attributed to the hens diet, health, and welfare.  The yolk colors are all pretty much the same as well. I have several breeds of chickens, that lay various colors of eggs, and they all have the same beautiful golden yolks.  A good comparison would be to say "People with brown hair are healthier than people with blonde hair."  It all depends on how they take care of themselves.

 Look at the gorgeous array of colors that I get. They all have the same deep golden, delicious yolks!

Eggs need to be washed before consumption

NOT ENTIRELY TRUE!  When eggs are laid, they are covered in a substance called  the bloom. It's not a noticeable substance, that I've ever seen.  The bloom is natural coating or covering on the eggshell that seals the eggshell pores,thus helping to prevent bacteria from getting inside the shell.  It also helps to reduce moisture loss from within the egg.  So, not washing the egg, and removing the bloom, helps it to last longer.  Honestly, eggs get dirty from the chickens feet, mud and muck that they track into the nesting box.  No, they don't come out of the chicken covered in poop.  If the coop is kept clean, and the mud around the coop to a minimum, the eggs are rarely dirty.  I have to wash (and by wash I take a cloth with a bit of white vinegar on it and wipe off the bit of dirt,) maybe one out of six eggs. MAYBE. 

Eggs need to be kept refrigerated 

NOT ENTIRELY TRUE!  I'm still on the fence about this.  In most European countries, people store their eggs right out on the counter, and room temperature.  Not washing the bloom off is important when storing them by this method.  Most Americans subscribe to refrigerating the eggs (a product of media influence, I suppose to some extent.)  I do refrigerate my eggs, which I guess would fall under the "better safe than sorry" outlook.
 Look at these beauties!  The chickens that laid them, left to right- Golden Campine, Chantecler, Ameraucana, Welsummer, and Easter Egger. The green one was a double yolk!

I hope that I've dispelled any rumors, about eggs, that you might previously have heard.  Every day of raising chickens is a new learning experience for me.  It's a rewarding one, too when I end up with the delicious little vessels my girls provide me. Thank you, Lawless Chickens.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A fairy tale coop

I'm an artist. And a builder. Unfortunately these two talents, well, clash at times. I spend more time designing and thinking, than I do cutting and nailing.  I'm still designing, in my head, the perfect coop.  But that's another story. What I have built is this little lovely-

It started out to be just a nesting house.  The girls could go there and have their private time, and it would be cleaner than having the nesting box in the coop.  

 The dimensions are 4'x4'x 2' high on the side walls.  The back has double doors, that are in inset, to prevent prying paws of raccoons or other predators. Having no gaps is important, too, to prevent weasels, mink, and, in some areas, rats from getting into coops.  I made the house out of solid pine, even the roofing boards (I don't like to build with plywood or particle board.)  The solid wood construction made it quite a bit heavier, so I made the roof removable.  The ridge cap just sits on the top, and screws can be removed to release the two roof sections.


The proper hardware is essential for a chicken coop. I recommend barrel bolts.  The doors on the back overlap, and are held with this barrel bolt.  Since I wanted the front to look good, I used a more decorative slide bolt. 
 The vent above the overhang has both screen and hardware cloth.  There's glass in the windows, and the overhang helps keep out the weather.  Being raised up on the blocks allows for air circulation and ease of cleaning.  The floor and the side walls are insulated.
 Here's Abigail, my Ameraucana. She immediately
went in to lay her beautiful blue egg, when I let her out of the coop. She's a good girl. 
Well, I started noticing that my four Barred Rock ladies (they are 5 1/2 years old) were getting grief from Francois the rooster when they tried to go in the coop.  He wasn't hurting them, he just prevented them from entering. The next night they also seemed hesitant to go in, when he wasn't bothering them.  They are molting now, and it's uncomfortable for them.  They like their space.

Here are my Barred Rocks enjoying a butternut squash.
 I then decided to turn the quaint nesting house into a special coop as well, just for my Barred Rock ladies. They are very special to me, since they are four of the first chickens that I every raised.   I will always favor them. They will live out their entire life with me, no matter how long they continue to lay (and they were currently laying up until molt, at 5 1/2 years old.) 
Originally, the tray on top was going to have hay for nesting as well. I modified that with a wider board for roosting, and lined the tray with pine bedding.  
 Good morning, girls. This was their second night in the coop. 

Chickens are creatures of habit.  The ladies have only spent two nights in the coop, and both nights I had to put them in there.  I'm sure though, that they will soon be going in on their own.  I can't imagine that they wouldn't prefer this to living in the other coop with the youngsters.  My chickens aren't very spoiled, are they.   

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Abandoned, not broken

 I adopted Murphy from a shelter in 2006. I'd lost my dog Riley within a matter of days of his cancer diagnosis. I was devastated, and needed to fill that horrible empty void.

Riley was a Chow Chow mix that I'd adopted from a shelter. 
He was an amazing dog, and I'll bet would he would have been good with chickens.

Murphy had been a stray, found at a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation facility.  It would  have been an easy place for someone to dump a dog after hours, without being seen.   It took them several days to catch him. I suppose he was waiting for what he thought were his people to come back and get him. surely it must have been a mistake that they left him there.
                                                This was his picture that was on Petfinder.

Being that he was a stray, we knew nothing of his background; nothing about his temperament, nothing about his training or his behavior. When my ex-husband and I first met him, he was in the back of the kennel, contentedly chewing on a rawhide. He'd been a stray.  He'd been hungry.  Getting two squares a day and a bed was better than being on the street. When I spoke to him, he came to the door and tossed the chew to me to throw. LOL! I should have known what I was in for. He loves to play fetch. It was guessed that he is a German Shepherd/Chow Chow mix. He was full grown, and estimated to be just under a year old.

                He also loves to swim. He's competed in 
                 dock jumping, and has won many ribbons. 

The introduction to my ex's Bloodhound went well, and we headed home.  I honestly don't think he'd ever been in a house, because he put the four footed brake stance on the first time he came in.   He was excellent about the house training.  The first time we left him alone in the cabin, he opened the kitchen cupboard door, took out a jar of peanut butter, and managed to unscrew the lid. LOLOL! I still am amused by that one.
After my divorce, Murphy, my two cats, and I moved into a cabin that needed a complete renovation. Then, three years after, in 2010, I got the crazy idea to raise chickens. My first hens came through the USPS as tiny day old chicks.  I wasn't sure how Murphy would react, so I was very careful with them at first.

                                        This is one of the Barred Rocks, back in 2010. 
                                 What a patient soul. 

Well, turns out, I had nothing to worry about.  He has been amazing with the chickens from the beginning, and continues to be so.  He keeps predators away, even hawks and owls.  I couldn't ask for a better livestock guardian.  
 Murphy is a perfect example of how shelter dogs are not damaged, or broken. Shelter dogs don't all have behavior issues, or aggression.  He's also proof that it's not necessary to get a puppy so that it will bond with you, or so that it can be trained properly to live with in harmony with livestock.  It is important to consider the breed when adopting, and do plenty of research.  Spend time at a shelter, and get to know the dogs. Many shelters offer the option of fostering before adopting.  Please do consider adopting a shelter dog. You'll be saving a life.
                                          Murphy with my older Barred Rock hens