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.

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.

IP Cameras in the Chicken Coop

Monitoring the chicken coop with a web cam?  Yes, I do.  Several of them in fact.

And even send video to live streaming onto YouTube from time to time, like when the hen goes broody and the chicks are about to hatch.  It is a great deal of fun to hear from the granddaughters that they could watch the new chicks peek their heads out from under the momma hen.

So what is involved?  The simplest is to get a wireless IP camera and monitor it with your smart phone.  Generally the apps come with the camera or a qr code link to scan the camera to install the app.  Once the camera is setup, they can be monitored on your phone, your tablet, your pc, or remotely via a cloud service.

There are many options once your camera is setup.  Blue Iris and similar programs allow you to monitor multiple cameras on your desktop pc and send alerts via email if an alarm condition is met, such as motion sensor, or sound sensor detects an event.

Cameras can be fixed or include PTZ, Pan,Tilt, Zoom features which allow you to remotely control the camera view.  Some cameras include audio monitoring and some even have two way audio.  Cameras are sometimes equipped with IR,  generally known as Infra Red, so they offer night time viewing as well. These “see in the dark” cameras are a real bonus for monitoring your flock at night.  With Cloud storage or an internal SD card storage, many cameras will record the action so you  can play it back later.

I started out in 2014 using a pair of D-Link DCS-930L cameras.  These are 640p resolution, do not offer night viewing and are a fixed view.  Later, I bought a Foscam R2, a couple of Deecam D200 and then an Amcrest camera.

As the price of the camera went up, so did the quality of the image, the features and quality of the software and the overall satisfaction in the camera.

It goes without saying then, my favorite camera in the chicken coop is also the one that was the most expensive.  So that camera is mounted where I can take advantage of the better image quality.  This one is the Amcrest camera.  I bought the silver color as it was a few dollars less than the more popular black and white colors.  For the chicken coop, it really does not matter what color the camera is.  I have 32 Gig SD memory cards installed in the cameras.  The Amcrest camera allows easy access to view video recordings.

The Foscam R2 camera is set to be able to see the west end inside of the chicken coop.  For evening and night viewing, it is usually pointed to the roost to enable us to do a chicken count as the chickens are settling in for the night. During the day, we frequently have in pointed downward to look into the next boxes to monitor the hens as they go about their egg laying activities.  We can get an idea of which hen is laying, which ones are just testing out the nest boxes and watching for a hen going broody.  The Foscam R2 field of view is a bit less of a wide angle view than from the Amcrest.  Fully zoomed in they are about the same.  The R2 preset functions seem to be easier to use than the Amcrest preset functions.  I do use the preset function on the R2 more than I need on the Amcrest so it might just be a familiarization with the controls that are the real difference.

The Deecam D200’s were less than half the price of the inside cameras, but give me two more views.  These are mounted under the roof so mostly out of the weather, and are looking outside the chicken coop.  As they have the PTZ movements, I can see most of the outside area around the coop.  The biggest downfall on these cameras is in the night vision, and while it works well enough to see predators approaching the coop, they do not have the great imaging I would like to have.  And they do not have nearly the flexibility in the software as do the Amcrest and Foscam cameras.

The Deecam cameras I purchased online from Wal Mart.  The process went well.  However, when I attempted to contact the company selling the cameras for some tech support, I got no response.  None. Notta.  Not even a no we won’t help with that.  Nothing.  Perhaps this is why they are no longer listed. I think I got my money’s worth out of the cameras, but I don’t recommend them.

The D-link 930 cameras gave me an inexpensive intro into the cameras and a few are still available.  These are way behind current technology and really not up to performing many useful tasks in watching your chickens.

Drama in the Chicken Coop

Welsummer Hen on the nest.

Finally, Another Broody Hen

Welsummer Hen on the nest.
A Welsummer Hen sat on the nest for a few hours acting a bit like she wanted to go broody. Not.
Buff Orpington on the next
Buff Orpington decides to set on the nest for the night
Plymouth Barred Rock Hen
Plymouth Barred Rock hen that pushed the broody one off the nest. Barred Rocks are sometimes a bit bossy.
Broody Buff Orpington Hen, getting a dust bath
The Broody One - getting a dust bath, but still showing fluffed feathers

Our efforts last month to get a hen to go broody met without much success. Buff Yellow, would love to get on the nest full of eggs and sit for hours. About 4 hours. Then she had enough and went about the rest of her day. A few times one of the golden wyandottes would also sit on the eggs for several hours, but nothing serious. By the early part of October, we decided maybe it would be too cold when the eggs hatched, so quit leaving eggs in the nest boxes. Except for the half dozen ceramic, fake eggs left scattered in some of the nest boxes.

A couple days ago, I was freshening up the nest boxes with new bedding and placed all the fake eggs in one of the nest boxes after putting in the new material. And promptly forgot about them while I went about cleaning the rest of the boxes.

Yesterday a new broody hen sat on the fake eggs along with 4 real ones the hens and laid, including perhaps, one of her own. So I took out the fake eggs out from under her, and gave her 4 more brown eggs and two blue eggs. The blue ones were laid earlier this week. Any idea how much a broody hen does not like the idea of messing with her eggs?

The broody one, a Buff Orpington, sat all night on the nest, not going to roost as usual.

This morning all was well…for a while. Several hens attempted to get in the nest with the broody hen. Then the Barred Rock hen, Barred Hunter, pushed broody hen out of her nest box and off the eggs she had sat on for about 24 hours. The Barred Rock laid her egg along with the 10 already there, then abandoned the nest.

Meanwhile the broody one, went out for a dust bath and a stretch.

The Buff Orpington even while playing in the dirt stayed all puffed up in her broody mode.

A little while later, the broody one reclaimed her nest, now sitting on 11 eggs. And for now, all is quiet one again in the chicken coop.

Baby Chicks – First Day Out with Momma Hen

Baby Chicks - First Day Out with Momma Hen

At a week old, the Momma hen got a chance to take the baby chicks on their first outing, and she headed them to section of the garden now covered in weeds and tall grass.

One of hens from last year, Sophia Red, came over to investigate.

They spent nearly the entire day out and about learning about foraging and free ranging from momma hen.  She did well, and brought all 8 chicks back to the chicken coop in the late afternoon.

Encouraging Another Broody Hen

Encouraging Another Broody Hen

Buff Orpington on the nest box.
Buff Yellow sat on the nest for hours. About 4 hours, several different times. Just not serious about it yet.

Now that we have had our first successful hatch with a first time broody hen, we got to wondering, can we repeat the process?

From reading a number of both online and offline articles on broody hens we learned hens go broody most often in the spring and fall of the year.  At late September, and the weather still quite warm, perhaps we could encourage the process.

Instead of collecting all the eggs except for a few of the ceramic nest eggs we leave scattered in different boxes, we decided to place 11 eggs in one of the favorite nests. I got a pencil and wrote the date on each egg, so if no takers the first day, I could then freshen up the eggs and remove the day old eggs from the nest, perhaps keeping the Ameracuana and Welsummer eggs for an extra day or so.

Perhaps leaving the eggs overnight instead of collecting them will trigger one of the hens to want to set on them for a few weeks.

Unhappy Roosters

Unhappy Roosters

We were having our young cousins over for a visit.  Our Welsummer roosters are definitely a little bit aggressive to unfamiliar people and the boys were sure to be the subject of their focus – after the hens of course.

To give the matter some time to acclimate, I opened the chicken door that opens into the fenced in chicken yard.  As usual, the three roosters and a couple hens were first out the door.  The chase was on, and the hens quickly headed back inside to avoid the frisky roosters.  As soon as the hens were inside, I closed the door to keep the roosters in the chicken yard.

Then we opened the main door to allow the hens to go out to their normal morning of free ranging and bug chasing, but without the full attention of the roosters.  The hens had a nice leisurely time of it, the boys got to see the hens and weren’t attacked by the roosters.

The roosters on the other hand, were really pacing and clearly did not like being separated from the hens.

Our First Broody Hen – A Buff Orpington

Broody Buff Orpington on the nest

Our first year with chickens, we opted to not have a rooster so the 5 roosters in our original batch of “pullet hens” that we bought from the local farm supply were packed away to the freezer for a future dining experience.  We started with five each, Ameracuanas, Barred Rocks, and Silver Wyandottes.  After culling the roosters, we had one Ameracuana, four Silver Wyandottes, and all the Barred Rocks.  Our hens enjoyed a summer and fall, free ranging for bugs, garden tidbits and what ever else caught their fancy.  They began laying eggs at about 18 weeks and all were laying by 20 weeks except the Ameracuana which started laying at 30 weeks old.

None of the hens showed any signs of broodiness, which was just fine.  It gave us a chance to to grow and learn more about the chickens we took on.  In the fall of the year, the farm supply again had baby chicks for sale.   We added another dozen hens, half of them Buff Orpingtons as we understood they are more likely to go broody than our other breeds.  Again, they were supposed to be pullets, and again, we got a number of roosters in the mix, including half of the Buff Orpingtons.

Then winter began to set in, and so did the predators.  Opossums, Raccoons, and Foxes all took their toll on the flock over a couple months time.  Some were attacked in the brooder box as we were moving the younger chicks in with the older hens.  Some were nabbed while free ranging, and a few when a predator found a way into the hen house.  We lost all but four hens by the time we got the predators under control.  This spring we added 39 more chicks, 6 from the local farm supply and 33 mail order from Cackle Hatchery.  Our order included a half dozen straight run Welsummers, of which half were roosters. Also we purchased six Buff Orpingtons.  One was a fail to thrive that did not make it past the second day.  We lost another to the predators, leaving us with four Buff Orpington hens.

Over the past few days, two of the Buff Orpingtons, and I’m not at all sure it is the same two, have tried out setting on the next for hours at a time.  This was much like the hens behavior just before they started laying eggs for the first time where they would go sit in the nest box, move the next material around and generally try it on for size.  August 29th, a day before this batch turned 27 weeks old, one of the Buff Orpingtons decided it was time to go broody.  I noticed her on the nest later in the day than has been normal.  While adding to the feeders and waters, I noticed she hunkered down a little, and certainly not looking like she might want to slip by me on the way out like they typically do.  I did see about a half dozen eggs in that next earlier in the day before she set.  As I collected the other eggs, I  placed a blue egg and two dark brown eggs in her next.  She attacked!  So pretty well confirmed she was broody.  After a couple moments, I saw that she took the additional eggs and tucked them in under her.  Later in the evening, I added one more blue egg for her to care for, and yes, got pecked again, but she took it in as well.  All through the night she sat on the nest and did not go on the roost.

We are hoping she stays on the nest for the duration and are looking forward to the possibility of new chicks in a few weeks.

Feeders for baby chicks to grown chickens

There are as many different types of feeders for baby chicks to full grown chickens available as you might well imagine.  We have tried a number of them, certainly no where near the full line of what is available.

We started with the small round feeders we picked up at the local farm supply.  These are the round plastic base feeders with the half quart bottle screwed to the top.  Initially we set them on the floor and the baby chicks had no problems getting to the feed and would empty the feeder pretty regularly.

We also tried a galvanized version of the same feeder, this base designed to make use of a Mason jar or something similar.  We used several different jars in our attempt to find the one that fit best and held the best amount of feed for the chicks size. After the second season, we quit trying to make use of it.  The base did not fit any of the jars very well, and often enough to be a bother, it would become separated from the jar and end up on the floor and trampled over with chicks and their droppings.  I don’t recommend this one.

As the chicks grew, we added blocks of wood under the feeders to help keep them at the right height for the chicks to easily reach their feed.

Very quickly they are able to mess up their feeders with the pine shavings we used for bedding filling the openings.  The raised blocks helped with this problem, but did not cure it.  And it was not long before the chicks found their way into using the feeder as a convenient place for their droppings, never mind they would later want to eat from that same place.  So cleaning is a frequent chore.  And as soon as the chicks were able, their favorite past time was to get on top of the feeder, and of course, the droppings quickly fell into the feed again, and more cleaning on the way.

After a while, I drilled a small hole in the container, and pushed in a cotter pin and spread it out, using it to hang the feeder from a small chain.  This made it easy to keep the height at the right level for the chickens to eat, and with the swinging action made it difficult for the chicks to stand on the feeder, so made it a lot cleaner and easier to manage.  Later, I drilled two larger holes, about 3/4″ diameter close to each other, and removed the bits of plastic in between.  This allowed for the insertion of a small funnel to fill the feeders without the need to remove them from the brooder.

Depending on how often you are able to check on your chicks, two feeders for the first ten chicks and another for each additional ten chicks seemed to work well for us.  All in all, I think these work well particularly if you can modify them slightly to hang them.  The waterers use the same container with a different screw on base, so the containers must be modified to hang for the feeders.  A molded tab on top to hang both feeders and waterers would be a welcome design enhancement.

We also tried the galvanized tray feeders, and tried hanging them from chains as well.  We found they were just too susceptible to the chicks standing on top of it and making a mess of the feeder. I don’t recommend them.

As the chicks grew so did their feed consumption.  It wasn’t long before we added a larger feeder to keep up with the demand.  We found a 7 pound hanging feeder at our local feed store and purchased two of them.  Amazon sells these in an 11 pound size, with an optional cover for the top to keep the hens from sitting on top and using as a toilet.    Ours hang in the chicken coop from a wood frame used to support the nest boxes.  We have not had any issue with the hens getting on top of this feeder in this location, and again, hanging from chains has made it easy to keep the height adjusted to the chickens as they continued to grow to full size.  We used two feeders for 38 chickens and filled once daily.  Later, predators reduced the flock size down some, but the feed rate stayed about the same for the 29 remaining chickens.   The feed rate has diminished now that they are free ranging and we only fill once every few days.  This feeder has worked well for both crumbles and pellets.  We will add a few pieces of crushed oyster shell into the feeders from time to time.  The oyster shell is heavier than the feed so drops to the bottom quick enough.  The hens will pick the oyster shell as needed and when we see it nearly depleted in the bottom we will add a handful to the feeder.  As the hens start laying, their consumption of the oyster shell increases somewhat.

 

Try these.