Figs Pigs and Feathers

We updated our Youtube channel

In order to better fit what we are doing on our place, we changed the channel name to Figs Pigs and Feathers.

Yes, that’s right.  We have added pigs to the mix.  Fig trees and a host of others have and will be added to select locations on our property, building an orchard and generally just adding food for us, the chickens, and pigs. 

The feathers part comes in as we also have Geese, Ducks, and Turkeys in addition to our chickens.

New Chickens for a New Year

New Chickens for the New Year

December 12th 2018 our first batch of new chicks hatched.  Hoover Hatchery shipped them out December 15th.  It was an order of 20 hatchery choice egg layers.  These chicks are the first of several orders intended to rebuild our flock following the devastating mink attacks.

No. It is not a good idea to order baby chickens mid December when the holiday season shipping rush has the post office swamped.  The heavy load of Christmas mail (apparently) delayed the delivery of the chicks enough that when they finally did arrive, they were quite stressed from the shipping and the cold weather.  Eleven of 20 have survived.  The rest were either DOA or failed to make it in the first 48 hours.  So no more chick orders before Christmas.

The next order was for 20 Dominique hens.  They hatched on January 30th and shipped on January 31st, 2019.  And the coldest blast of weather came the same day as the chicks were shipped.  Again, the post office delivery was late.  Tracking info on the shipments indicated both shipments routed through Memphis, then to Little Rock.  That was different.  Usually it routes straight through to Little Rock.  Not sure why, but it added an extra day or two to the shipment times.  Only 6 of this batch survived the ordeal.

The survivors are all doing very well, but only 17 additional hens to go along with the one surviving hen from the mink and dog attacks.

Our most recent addition, 25 chicks ordered, this time from Murray McMurray hatchery.  With the 25 ordered, they included two extras.  This time, the shipment, which originated in Iowa the same as from Hoover Hatchery, went straight through to Little Rock and then to our post office as has always happened until the previous two orders.  And they arrived on time, in good health and all are thriving.  This order compromised 10 Golden Wyandottes, 5 Silver Wyandottes, 5 White Wyandottes, 6 Speckled Sussex (1 of the extras) all females, and 1 straight run mystery rare heritage breed chick.

Also ordered from Murray McMurray and due to ship mid April is their Homesteaders’ Delight, package of 10 brown egg layers, 2 geese, 2 ducks, and 2 turkeys.  All are hatchery choice and except the chickens, are straight run.

2018 Coming to a Close

End Of The Year - Assessment

So What do you think?

Not a particularly great way to end the year.

2018 was a decent year all in all. 

There were plenty of eggs to be collected and shared.  Lots of entertainment, and perhaps most important for us on our little patch in the woods, is the chickens did a remarkable job with insect control.  The year was noted in several news articles as being particularly bad with the high numbers of ticks.  A walk in the woods here and talking with neighbors confirmed the presence of high numbers.  We also contend with chiggers, spiders, and numerous other creepy crawly bugs here and in our garden.

Early in the season, the chickens began their free range expansion beyond the clear areas and into the fringes of the woods.  First we noticed the far fewer number of spiders, and then the fact that we were not getting any ticks crawling on us when we walked outside.  The mud dobbers and other wasp populations were also down, likely because they too feed on the spiders.

Garden pests were still in abundance, particularly the tomato horned worms, but toss those out to the chickens and they were a tasty snack quickly pecked to pieces and eaten.  Converted to eggs, kind of like magic.

But the memorable event of the year of course was the mink attacks.

We had increase our flock size up to 57, knowing that we would have some predator losses in the winter months and tried to allow for that.  Past winters have seen the predators come by for some fast fresh chicken dinners and they have had some success.  And for the occassional loss to a predator, well that is expected when free ranging.

But to lose nearly the entire flock in such a short time frame, and in the coop during the night was a shock.  We certainly learned the coop was not nearly as secure as we thought, and that there are more varmits out there that like chicken than we ever imagined.  Enough to cause us to take a pause and rethink our whole approach to the free range chicken.

So our first action was to clean out the coop, remove the roosts, nest boxes, etc., and identifying every area we could that might allow a varmit or other critter intent on chicken dinner, and securing that area.  The entire area around the base of the coop has been cleared out, and wrapped in 1/2 inch hardwire cloth, with coming down into the ground and extending away from the coop for a foot or so, overlapped and buried.  The overlaps are also tied together so a mink cannot weasle its way in between the overlap as it did with the chicken wire we had down previously.  The hardware cloth should also help keep the snakes out of the coop as I think they were just slithering through the chicken wire.

Also, we are sealing off the under side of the rafters where they extended beyond the walls.  Those had been left open for ventilation.  While not enough space for a raccoon or opposum, doubtful a mink would have a problem getting into that space.  Where the metal roofing is attached, we will be sealing off those ridge spaces with expanding foam.  Still to come is a concrete pad under the doorway, so when the door is closed, it will close against a ledge to keep the door sill area secure. 

I’ll try to add some photos later to show all the imporvements.

Next post, I’ll go into more details on the plans for the new year.

Another Mink Attack

Chicken Killer Dog

More Mink Attacks, and a Dog Attack

November 2018 was a treacherous month in the chicken coop.

 
The mink came back for multiple attacks, particularly during the several days over the Thanksgiving week when we were out of town travelling.  In the additional attacks, the mink managed to kill 55 of the 57 chickens in the coop. All the attacks were at night, some early evening, some early morning hours.
 
The geese, after the first attack would not go back into the coop, as well as the two that did survive the mink.  The two survivors roosted in a cedar tree near the coop, while the geese stayed in the pool for night.
 
 The mink attacked and killed Lucy, the smaller goose, while she was in the pool.  Amazing that the mink was abe to approach the goose without the geese detecting the mink was there, until the attack.  The mink moved so quickly the goose had no time to react, and was unable to get away from it.
 
A pair of dogs, both wearing collars came though and killed a rooster, one of the two surviving chickens.  One hen has survived along with the goose.  The two were both in shock and have clearly been impacted by the violent ordeal.
 
Having the cameras posted in the coop and around the coop yard, I was able to keep an eye on the coop.  The first couple of attacks were over by the time I was abe to reach the coop, even though we could see it happening live.  Two more attacks came while we were away.  The mink did come back after killing the chickens, to retrieve one that was buried in the bedding.  I had not noticed that hen when I was clearing away the dead.  I used the Arduino controls to turn on the interior coop lights.  The mink was not bothered by the lights being turned on.  Next I turned on the fan.  The fan noise also did not bother the mink.  The lights on and fan noise in the coop gave me enough opportunity to sneak up on the varmit.  While not a direct hit, there were enough pellets in it, that it leaked out across the coop yard and left a trail to it’s den.  The mink will not be coming back.  I have no evidence that there was more than one mink and have not seen any on camera since.
 

Increasing Coop Security

 
After the first attack, we reinforced the wire around the bottom of the coop were we determined the varmit got in.  The chicken wire that was under the walls, and folded out from the coop and buried was just not enough to keep out the mink.  Last summer, we learned chicken snakes could also get through the wire.
 
We dug that out, and wrapped the bottom foot or so with hardware cloth, and folded that down around the outside of the coop.  The chicken wire we previously used for this purpose was only installed to go out from the walls, but we did not overlap the wire on the corners.  With the hardware cloth, we overlapped the corners and wrapped the wire around the corners.  The gap in the corner was where the mink got in initially.  We discovered this because the mink attempted to pull a baby chick through the hole, but the chick was not small enough to get through the space the mink was able to get through.
 
Around the top of the coop, there was some open space for ventilation.  This space was between the roof rafters.  This has now been closed up to prevent any access there as well.
 
On the to do list, is to put some expanding foam into the space formed by the ridges in the roofing sheet metal.  Also, I plan to pour some concrete in the front doorway to better seal up the space below the door, and behind it when it is closed. 
 

Other Thoughts

 
An improvement to the video monitoring might help.  Tweaking the motion settings for the cameras is under way.  There have been a few times where the predators have been inside the coop and have not been captured by the camera motion sensors.  Some of the settings configure the size, contrast, speed, and distance moved required to trigger an alert and record the video from that event.  At night, dust, flying insects, and such can be seen with the IR settings on the cameras and can set off false alarms.
 
Also giving some thought to putting some Arduino based PIR motion sensors around the coop, outside, to turn on outside lights and perhaps some on the inside the coop as well to turn on inside lights if there is some floor activity while the chickens are on the roost.
 
 

Mink Attack

Mink in the chicken coop

Wow! What a Killer!

It was the night before Halloween. We noticed some commotion going on in the chicken coop on the coop ip cameras.

When the particular camera was selected it was clear we had a problem. I headed down to the coop as quickly as I could get my boots on and get there. The varmit was gone, one hen gasped a few last breaths, and so many others that succumbed to the attack.

The count was 14 that had died, many the Buff Orpington chicks we bought in early September, so now about 6 or 7 weeks old. One of the two Plymouth Barred Rock chicks from the same date also died.

The geese and many of the remaining chickens “flew the coop” as soon as I opened the door.

I noticed the varmit put its victims into piles in several places, mostly in corners. Also, the chickens had all died from vampire like bites to their necks, and my impression was something sucked all the blood out of the chickens. Well, they were killed with the bites to the neck, but they were not drained of their blood. Perhaps being the night before Halloween and all the seasonal tv shows had to do with the vampire vision.

It took a while, but I removed all the chickens that had died from the coop and laid them out to get a photo so I knew which of the flock fell. There were 13. Later, I found the Plymouth Barred Rock chick stuck in a corner on the outside of the coop. I’d found here the mink gained entrance to the coop, but the hole was so small, it could not pull the chick through to the outside. So for all the killing, the mink when out hungry.

I have chicken wire attached to the wall frame, dropping down behind the exterior siding, and extending just under the ground out from the building. Trying to keep critters from digging under the walls. In the corner, this wire overlapped, but the mink was able to get in between the wire layers to gain entrance.

After securing that entry point, and checking around the coop for other possible entrances, I went back and reviewed the recording from the coop cameras. The total was 14 chickens attacked and killed in about 15 minutes. It was incredibly fast in attack speed.

It paused a moment in view of the camera and in a position to clearly show itself and with reference points, I was able to go with a tape measure and determine it to be 25 inches long from nose to tail.

They are not all roosters

After some months now, we have finally decided that of the 4 white Jersey Giant straight run chicks we ordered from Hoover Hatchery, 1 of them is a hen.  Straight run was the only option available for this breed, otherwise we would have ordered 3 hens and 1 rooster, but got just the opposite.

It surprised us a bit how long it took to finally be certain of the gender they look so much alike.  The hen has a smaller comb, and her tail is straighter and stands up better than do the roosters.  One rooster has much more curl on the tail feathers, the other two not so much, but they do tend to hang down.

Jersey Giants Update

White Jersey Giants at 14 Weeks

So it has been about 14 weeks since we received our Jersey Giant chicks from the hatchery.  It is amazing how quickly they have grown.

 

The White Jersey Giants we ordered as a straight run, so no idea whether we have pullets or cockerels.  With our other chicks it has been pretty clear by this age what gender they are.  It has been difficult to see the differences with the JG chicks.

One week it seems one has a larger comb or more color in the wattles, then a day or two later that all changes and they look the same.

This week I noticed the tail feathers.  A couple of the chicks have tail feathers that appear to be just a little bit longer and curling downward making me think cockerel.

But, it is a rainy day today, something we have not had much of this summer.  I can’t help but wonder if the rain is having an impact on those feathers.  The mystery continues.

Our suspicions are that we have two of each.  Time will tell.

Liz Zorab of Byther Farm on YouTube inspired us with her Jersey Giant rooster, Big White, to give this breed a try.   Every now and again, she shows a glimpse of Big White and some of the rest of her JG flock.

This breed takes a long time to mature, so it may well be a while before we know

New Chicks Arrived As Expected

Baby chicks from Hoover Hatchery

New Home Hatched Chicks for May 2018

Home Hatched - Hen and day old baby chicks

As expected, the broody hen started hatching right on time.

May 6th was the first hatch date, and the rest hatched out by the 8th, though the last one might have been the night of the 7th.

Of the 10 eggs she started with, 9 hatched.  The last one candled okay, but never made it to hatch out.

The Hoover Hatchery Chicks Arrive

Hoover Hatchery Chicks arrive.

Yes, we all know babies come from the Post Office, just like the chickens.

Well, like some of our chickens.  The order from Hoover Hatchery arrived.

Just as the home hatched chicks arrived on the expected date, so did the hatchery chicks.  All 15 chicks were lively and healthy when we picked them up.

And just so darn cute.

Our chicken flock just increased by 24 new baby chicks.

Baby chicks from Hoover Hatchery

Baby Chicks Coming for Spring of 2018

Early to mid-May we should be hearing the sound of new baby chicks.

One of the Buff Orpington hens has decided to go broody.  She is set on 10 eggs.  The first day she began to set was April 16th, a Monday.  I picked her up, and of course she pecked me pretty hard several times, but she has done this before and once her displeasure was made known, she was fine.

I removed the ceramic and goose eggs being used as nest eggs from her nest box, and replaced them with other eggs that were in nearby nest boxes the other hens had laid that same morning.  I marked a large X on those eggs with a pencil in several places as I know some of the other hens will push their way into her box and lay their egg with hers.  The barred rock hens are particularly pushy in getting their egg in the nest box with a broody hen.

Welsummer eggs are pretty easy to tell apart from the other hens eggs we have, and in particular, we wanted to promote that breed a bit as we have Welsummer roosters.  So I added the two Welsummer eggs we had to her box.  In all, 9 eggs for her to sit on.

The hen stayed broody all night, so Tuesday afternoon, I again lifted her from her nest, and removed the extra unmarked egg from the nest, and added another Welsummer egg and marked it with an O so I would know it was a day later than the others when hatch time comes.

We expect she will hatch her eggs on May 7th or 8th.

So just to keep things interesting, we ordered some new baby chicks from Hoover Hatchery in Iowa.  We have ordered from them before, last November, when we sent some from there to our granddaughter in Mississippi so she could start her flock.  She has had great success with all her chicks, many of which have just started laying eggs this past week.

Hoover Hatchery also does not charge shipping, so the total order cost is much more affordable than the order we placed with Cackle Hatchery, where we have ordered most of our chickens.  Cackle Hatchery is in Lebanon, Missouri, and is pretty close to us compared to most other hatcheries.

So our order this time is for some White Jersey Giants, unsexed, Americana females, Buff Orpington females, Delaware females, and some Dominique females.

“The Americana breed comes from the Araucana and Ameraucana mix and has different color plumage variations” according to Hoover.  We are looking forward to some more layers with some additional egg colors to the wide variations of brown we currently get.

These chicks are due to ship on May 8th, so we expect arrival on the 10th, but won’t know until the post office calls to let us know they are ready for pickup.

Chicken Killers – Dog Attack

Buff Orpington - Stone

Chicken Killers

The Buff Orpington momma hen and two of her ten chicks cruelly killed by someone’s dogs.

Silver Laced Wyandotte - Silver
Plymouth Barred Rock Hen
Golden Laced Wyandotte - Orange

It pretty well goes that if you have chickens, you will have predators. And we have had our share.  Foxes, raccoons, opossums, snakes, and hawks have all been visitors in search of a meal.  We  have owls big enough to carry off a full grown chicken, we have bald eagles that fly over from time to time, neither of which has made any attempt to grab a chicken and go, at least not that we have been aware of. Thursday however, two dogs with collars, and obviously well fed and cared for, entered the chicken coop and began their killing spree. Dead chickens in the coop, in the yard, in the garden, scattered all over. The worst of it, they killed the Buff Orpington momma hen and two of her ten baby chicks.  It was clear both of the dogs were involved in the killing.  Also clear, they were not in for a meal.  They were killing for the fun of it. The dogs were captured, and the owner found.  When she heard of the slaughter, her response was, well they are chicken killers, almost like it was humorous or of no consequence to her.  It was clear the dogs, or at least one of them has been known to kill chickens before. All told, eight were killed, two injured and our largest goose was injured. Of the two hens injured, I’m pretty sure only one will survive. The dog owner offered me $45 in damages, which I turned down. As our hens were purchased from Cackle Hatchery, I checked them out. https://www.cacklehatchery.com/eggs-and-adult-fowl/grown-fowl.html For a grown pullet, with shipping the cost is $110.  The more you order, of course, the less the price is, down to a minimum of $59 each if 8 or more are ordered. With the expectation of losing the injured Golden Wyandotte, 9 replacements would cost $531. I don’t know how to put a price on the personal aspect of the loss.  These animals have not been raised for commercial purposes.  We do not sell eggs, nor do we sell the meat. These have been raised as pets, with a lot of focus on sharing photos, stories, and live video with family and friends.  It was particularly sad that at least one viewer witnessed on live video the dogs in the chicken coop, killing the hens. I did not collect the dogs owners name, address or phone.  I did give her my phone number and suggested she go home and think on the matter, then when she decided what she and her family thought was the right thing to do, to let me know.  If and when I hear something, I’ll add an update to this post.