Chickens, Farm to Fork, Keeping Chickens

A Completely Understandable Reason Not to Tame Your Chickens

I’ve talked about the reasons it’s a good idea to have tame chickens in your backyard flock. But, like most things in life, it’s not perfectly black and white.

I don’t raise meat chickens. I’m sort of interested in it, and I admire those if you who do. The amazing heritage breed chicken meat I get from Kristy, of Chowdown Farm, at the farmer’s market, is the most delicious I have ever tasted. (She even brought whole, dark-skinned, young roosters to my house, and taught me how to butcher them, for a coq au vin I was making a few years ago!) I can imagine that if you are raising meat chickens, you might prefer not to get to know them quite so well.

My grandparents raised a few cattle for beef, on their gold country ranch, when I was growing up. My grandfather’s barbecue skills were legendary. He sometimes jokingly named a cow “Steak”, and another “Hamburger”. And I will admit to having a few qualms as we ate dinner on the patio overlooking the cows grazing on the rolling golden hills.

But gosh those garlicky, red wine-marinated, steaks, with homemade pesto fettuccine, green beans from the garden, and wild blackberry pie for desert, were among the favorite meals of my life. And I think it would have been a little harder to enjoy the steaks if the cows had been named “Bessie”, and “Clarabelle”, and had come running when I called them!

Chickens, Keeping Chickens

Pink Eggs

I know I’ve talked a lot about blue egg layers, but we want ALL the colors in our egg basket, so let’s talk about pink eggs now! Do I have pink layers? Sort of 😊. In this picture of today’s eggs, you can see that some of the are pinkISH. It turns out that pink eggs are more difficult to achieve than blue ones. They are usually, technically, a cream egg, or the result of a whitish bloom over a brown egg. But they can certainly look pink in comparison to the other eggs in your basket!

If you are looking to add a pink layer to your flock, your best bet may be a cream egg layer, which often looks pink next to the brown and white eggs. Some Easter Eggers also lay pinkish eggs. The problem is that if you are scooping up chicks at the feed store from the bin of Easter Eggers, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a pink layer, as EE’s also lay blue and green eggs (not all from one chicken!!) Some people say you can predict egg color an EE will lay by the leg color – it’s worth a try!

I’m pretty sure my pinkish eggs come from my Speckled Sussex, and my Silver Laced Wyandotte. My Black Australorp also sometimes lays a pinkish egg. I’ve heard that Salmon Favorelles lay pinkish eggs, and they are such pretty birds. I’ve got my eye out for one,… and a Seabright because they are so pretty,… and a Deathlayer… and a Black Copper Marans……. except that I’ve already got a dozen chicks in my living room! 😂

Keeping Chickens

Taming Roosters

Do you have an aggressive rooster?
Believe it or not, this little fluffball rules the roost in our coop. He’s not exactly intimidating. But even he can get a little “roosterish” from time to time.
As soon as steps out of line with me or the kids, I scoop him up and carry around with me while I do my barn chores. I actually think he likes to be carried. He gets very relaxed, (plus it’s as close to flying, or being tall, as this little Silkie will ever get! 😂)
More importantly, it reminds him who’s the boss here. You’ve gotta maintain your position at the top of the pecking order. After a little quality one-on-one time, he goes back to being a perfect gentleman around humans. This is even more effective if you carry your rooster belly side up. (Although I’m actually just trimming his toe feathers in this photo. 😊) To really modify his behavior, you may need to hold your roo for a few days in a row, to start, and once a week after that.

Some roosters will always be aggressive. But carrying your rooster is an easy “domination” method. If you have an ornery rooster, it’s worth a try before banishment!

Chickens, Keeping Chickens

Rooster Spurs

Crystal R. Bender asked about removing roosters spurs. You may want to remove a rooster’s spurs if he is being too rough with your girls. But generally, most people remove a rooster’s spurs is if he is being too rough with his human handlers. For me, if a rooster has enough behavior issues that his spurs are a problem, then that’s not the rooster I want around my kids – spurs or no. I guess I think of it like a cat with claws – our pet cat could do lots of damage with her claws, but never would, (except to my furniture!!), so it’s not a problem. I’ll keep one, friendly, rooster around, and that’s pretty much my limit. But I have a small, urban, flock. For other flocks, roosters are a necessity, for breeding, flock protection, and flock management. There are lots of different “right” ways to keep chickens. I’ve read about the “baked potato method” to remove spurs, but never tried it. So I’m including a link to a good article, by people who clearly have more experience with the process than I do!

And yes, this is my rooster. I’m not kidding about only keeping a completely un-intimidating rooster! Although having his own cavalry helps. 😁

Chickens, Keeping Chickens

Why You Want to Tame Your Chickens

The more you handle you baby chicks, the more tame they will be. It’s great to have tame chickens for lots of reasons!

First, it’s more fun to have tame chickens. If you haven’t kept chickens before, it may be difficult to believe, but you really will get to know their personalities. They can be so funny and entertaining!

Even if you plan on them being barnyard chickens, not pets, the more tame chickens become, the easier it will be to treat them when they are injured or sick.

It makes it easier to round them up into the coop at dusk, or to negotiate nesting box politics.

Finally, there is nothing funnier, not more joy-inducing, than watching your flock of baby dinosaurs come running to you when you call!


Chickens, Getting Started with Chicks, Keeping Chickens

The Babies are One Week Old!

We’ve had the chicks for one week now. They are growing so fast! The brooder is already getting crowded. I’ll move them to a bigger pen soon, but I want to keep them warm by the fire for one more week, so I needed to make a little more space for them. I decided to get rid of the standing waterer and feeder, and hang feeders from the outside, to give the chicks more room to spread their wings.  Also, the standing water feeder gets dirty so quickly, even if you do put it up on a block.

I drilled a few more holes in the container, (I love my power drill – can’t imagine life without it!), so the chicks could access the spouts of feeders and water bottles hanging in the outsiders the brooder. I’ve never tried a water bottle for chickens before. I didn’t even get the special chicken nipples, I just used a water bottle we had never used with the bunnies. I wasn’t completely sure it would work. But these smart girls figured it out almost instantly!  I dripped the water on the tip of new waterer with my finger a couple times.  Once one chick figured it out, the others quickly followed.

The chicks are eating and drinking so much more than they were a week ago.  They need it because they are getting big so fast!  Pretty soon you may want to switch to larger feeders and waterers, to make sure they don’t run out.  They are also getting flight feathers on their wings, and will start to flutter out of their brooder, given the opportunity, so make sure your lid is secure!  Even though they are such sweet fluff balls when they are brand new, they are getting stronger and more hardy every day.  This is good news!  You’ve passed the first, most fragile, week.  Congratulations!

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Chickens, Keeping Chickens

Oh No!

Eek!!! I have a chicken emergency!! Poor, sweet, Miranda is suffering, and I can’t figure out why. I’ve spent the day treating all the possibilities, including cleaning out the coops, in the middle of a hailing thunderstorm. (Yes, afterwards I did reward myself with my favorite Earl Grey tea from England, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, and cuddles with a baby chick and my six year old, in front of the fire.) So today, instead of giving advice, I am asking for it from all you wonderful chicken experts!

(And I promise to post completely adorable baby chick pictures later! 😊)

A couple weeks ago Miranda, our Rhode Island Red hen, seemed to be molting, mostly on her neck and chest. I kept an eye on it, looking for the new feathers to grow in, and checked for mites, but didn’t see any. It has gotten worse, so today I did a closer inspection. You can’t see it until you pick her up, but Miranda has a red, raw, bald streak, from her neck down her chest, almost to her vent!

I’m going through the possibilities in my mind. Here’s a list of what I’ve thought of:

– Mites

– Rodents chewing at night (so horrific, I know!)

– Vent gleet

– Feather picking, either by her or another chicken

– Broodiness

I don’t think it’s vent gleet, because the area immediately around her vent has feathers still, and doesn’t seem irritated.

I saw pictures of rodent chewing (how awful!) that look similar, which is why I thought of it. I’ve had an ongoing battle against rodents in the chicken run. But there hasn’t been any evidence of them in the past couple of months. So I don’t think that’s it.

So I’m back to mites. As soon as I realized it was a possibility, I thoroughly cleaned out the coops, replaced all the bedding, and treated it with diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth is completely safe for chickens, but the tiny fossils of the diatoms slice and kill any bug with an exoskeleton. If it is mites, I’ll need to treat the whole flock, and the coops. It’s a lot like when you find out your kids came home from school with lice – a huge hassle!

I brought Miranda inside, gave her a bath with epsom salts, got her warm and dry, treated her legs and raw areas with Vetericin, and then covered them with Vaseline. I’m keeping her quiet, warm, and isolated. I still haven’t seen any mites, but am not sure what else to do. I’ve given her water with apple cider vinegar, honey, and garlic powder, which is supposed to help her immune system. I’ve given her choices of oats, plain yogurt, and scrambled eggs. Oats have been shown to help with mites. The yogurt and scrambled eggs are for probiotics and protein (in case it is feather picking, which can be caused by not enough protein). Also, Miranda seems a little underweight, so I’m trying to get some extra calories into her, and my girls LOVE yogurt.

Miranda could be broody, and picking her feathers because of it. If that’s the case, I wonder if she’d like to try raising some baby chicks? (since I happen to have a few right now!) But if she does have mites, I don’t want to expose the chicks.

I’m still not exactly sure what I’m dealing with, but am treating it on multiple fronts, hoping just to solve the problem. Regardless of the cause, how do I stop poor Miranda from picking herself raw? Do they make cones of shame for chickens? Do I use a chicken apron, except in the front? Do I put her back with the flock to avoid stress, or keep her warm and quiet? I’d love any advice from all you chicken experts. Thanks you guys!

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Chickens, Getting Started with Chicks, Keeping Chickens

Speaking of Chick Poop!

If you’re going to bring home baby chicks, you need to know about “Pasty Butt”. Just like human babies, you need to keep the little chick babies’ bottoms clean. If the poop dries on the chick’s bottom, it can block things up, which a little chick can die from. So you need to check their little fluffy bottoms daily, especially when they are tiny. When you find one with Pasty Butt (because you will), you’ll need to wash it VERY gently. It is important to use warm water, like you would for a baby bath, and not to pull any down out. If you pull down out, it can cause bleeding. Also the chick needs her down to stay warm. Some people use cotton swabs. The method which works best for me is to hold the chick with one hand, and create a little baby bottom bidet out of my other hand by cupping it under the chick, with a trickle of warm water running into it. If you keep the chick warm, she may actually relax or even take a nap. It will take a few minutes of soaking for the poop to loosen. You can use a little mild soap to help loosen it, but be very gentle! You will be amazed how tiny and fragile a little chick with a wet bottom seems. If you are grossed out by touching chicken poop, nitrile or latex exam gloves are fine. After you have shampooed the poop out, gently dry the chick with a paper towel or cloth. You’ll need to use a blow dryer, on low, to dry the chick’s down until she is fluffy again before you put her back. Keep the chick against you, and shield her with your hand as you blow her dry, so that you can feel the temperature and air pressure. Be careful not to blow her little wings the wrong way.

Giving this Pasty Butt baby a little bottom bath. She was super relaxed and happy!

Some people put a bit of Vaseline on the chick’s vent afterwards. I’ve never needed to, but if the vent seems irritated, or if the “Pasty Butt” persists, a little Vaseline can’t hurt. It’s also a good idea to have some Vetericyn (animal-safe wound care) on hand, to use for any abrasion, or any other injuries. If Pasty Butt persists, adding some corn meal, or mashed hard boiled egg, to their feed, can help. Also, try providing some chick grit. And finally, make sure that the temperature is neither too cold nor too hot in their brooder. Temperature is so important for these tiny babies!

Ok, that’s all I have to say about baby chick poop for now. I don’t think I’ve ever written the word “poop” so many times at once! 😂

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Chickens, Getting Started with Chicks, Keeping Chickens, Things I Like

The Heat Source

Keeping chicks warm is one of the most important parts of raising new chicks.

Baby chicks need at least part of their coop to be 95-100 degrees for the first two weeks. Then it should be reduced by 5 degrees a week, for a month, until their feathers have grown in.

We keep our youngest baby chicks in front of the fireplace, which, in the winter, always has a pilot light lit and is warm. I’ve made a window in one side, with hardware cloth and duct tape, to allow the warm air in. I had read horror stories of fires started by heat lamps, and decided they were too risky. So our first batch of chicks were warmed by the fireplace, and a waterproof, fire-safe, pet-warming pad, under half the crate (only half, so that they could move away from it if they got too hot). There was a lot of starting and stopping the gas fire, worrying that they were too hot or too cold.

But a more consistent heat source would make life easier for everyone. Last year I bought a brooder plate. It was about $60, which is more than I usually spend on chicken supplies. But it has been worth it. It’s safe, holds a steady temperature, and adjusts higher as they grow. I really like it.

I also put a sticker thermometer on the inside of the box, to easily keep an eye on the temperature. Even so, we still keep them by the fire when they are tiny. It’s cozy there, and so fun to watch them!

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