Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chicken and Garden update 12/16/2012

     The unseasonably warm weather has made our chicken care chores a lot easier than I had imagined they would be for this time of year.  It's pretty unusual to not have snow yet for this part of the country.  Not only has it not snowed, there have only been a few days where we have had to deal with frozen water in the mornings.  I have about an hour of sunlight after work these days and my routine now includes letting out our neighbor's Lab, Maggie.

     At first this was a difficult proposition that had me rushing to walk her so the chickens could have some time outside after she was back in the house.  Incredibly, though, our efforts to introduce them slowly have paid off, and she understands that they are part of the pack now.  Even though she was trained to hunt, she is smart enough to tell the difference between pheasants and chickens.  Good dog!

     Now we go get the chickens together.  Here they are in the not yet fenced, soon to be forest garden.  I moved our picnic tables over there and put some pallets across the benches so they would have some overhead cover.  They really prefer the neighbor's Pine trees though.  I will need to get some fencing up soon, they are starting to do visible damage to the turf in spots.  I just figured everything would be covered in snow by now.

     Maggie and the chickens get along really well.  Some times they even follow her around, which is hilarious.

     Maggie is off to patrol the lasagna gardens.  The pink ribbons tied to the fence posts are so that I can monitor and better understand the wind patterns here.

And the chickens follow.

     We are still getting some kale out of the lasagna beds.  The Red Russian Kale on the upper right has not fared well through the frosts, the remaining broccoli is also not looking too good.  But the Curled Blue Scotch Kale (lower left) is still crisp and delicious.

      The garlic and potato onions are sprouting.  I am surprised how much the chickens like the garlic greens.  They pick at the kale, but don't do too much damage with the time they have.  They do a wonderful job of turning the top layer of mulch though.

     Above is Aristotle, one of our 3 ameraucana roosters enjoying some garlic.  They are gorgeous birds, especially when the sun hits their many colored feathers.  It is going to be a sad day soon when we have to take out the boys, but they are having more frequent, though minor scuffles lately.  And a few time they have gotten into crowing contests at 8 or 9 at night.  Fortunately for us the neighbors can't hear it in their house.  They have been more and more adventurous lately, discovering the flower gardens and bird feeders up by the house.  Below, Hank the rooster and one of the ameraucana hens are checking out Nikki's butterfly garden.  Luckily they haven't gone near the road at all.  We expect to start getting some pullet eggs some time in January.

     The new front hugelkulture bed looks about the same so far, not much settling.  I did spread some white clover seed over it yesterday while there were warmer temps and a gentle rain.  Nikki has planted some bulbs in it, but I am not really sure what or where yet.  There are also some patches of safflower sprouting that I had thrown out to encourage the chickens to scratch at the mulch. 

    So far, our winter hoop coop setup is working out well.  Of course we haven't faced any real winter weather yet either.  No smell at all in the coop, the deep litter method is working wonderfully in that regard.  We filled a few pallet bins full of leaves from the yard this fall.  Dry leaves, with a little straw, have made up the bulk of our litter material so far.  Though I also picked up some store bought pine shavings to get us through wetter weather.  I spread a thin layer over the entire coop floor at least once a week.  We stopped using the nipple type waterer.  The chickens stopped using it the first time it froze on them.  I  was planning on constructing a heated version of it.  Now I am not so sure if I should.  In a lot of ways, I think it is better to just bring them a fresh dish twice a day.  It gets us out there to check on things and uses less energy.  Mostly now we use the plastic waterer we first started with.  Hanging it from a chain has really helped keep things cleaner.  The two dishes on the right we use for grit.

     We had another dramatic close call a couple of days ago.  A friend came to visit with his rambunctious Lab-Husky mix named Sunny.  The chickens were out and he was very interested, so we kept him on a leash the whole time.  We were in back chopping wood and having a small fire while sunny was tied to a nearby fence post on a long cable.  Everything was fine, until the entire flock of chickens crept over toward us through the trees behind our compost bins and came suddenly into Sunny's view.  He ran for them.  When he ran out of cable, his collar snapped off without so much as a jolt, and the chase was on!  I am pretty sure this was the fastest I have ran in at least a decade, but there was no way I was going to catch up in this race.  The chickens gained a little ground by scattering and Sunny went after the largest group, around the barn and toward the big pine tree.  The birds went under the tree and Sunny went around allowing me to cut him off.  He easily sidestepped my grab and ran toward a lone Red Star hen standing 1/2 way between the coop and the tree.  She bolted to the small, and thankfully open, chicken door as he barreled down.  My heart thumped loudly as she stumbled outside the door and he snapped his jaws just shy of her tail feathers.  Somehow she made it through the door, which he was just barely to big to fit through, as the thin boards creaked and cracked against his weight. 

     I was only a few steps behind, and grabbed him, pinning him down while my friend went to retrieve his leash.  I am still amazed that no one got hurt, with the exception of scrapping my knuckle on a brick that we use to prop the coop door open sometimes.  I'm not angry with Sunny, it's the dog in him, and other than an intense need to play rough and fast, he is a good dog.  Maggie (pictured with Nikki below) is an amazingly smart dog; though definitely her own master.  I have really enjoyed having her around.

Other than that we are just looking forward to spending some time with our families over the holidays and then on to the start of garden planning season!

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