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.