Tuesday, December 31, 2013

#6 The Zen House Girls Are Getting Bored!!

I can only surmise that the girls are getting bored and can't find anything better to do with their time than to peck at each other or decide they are having some sort of gender identity crisis and have the need to behave like roosters.  Today I noticed that Ebony has a bald spot on her back.  Now most of the girls, except Ivy, have some picked feather spots on their backs, but not bald spots.  Well, now I know why.  Apparently Penny has decided she needs to behave like a rooster and mount Ebony.  Funny thing is, I think she is having the same thing done to her because I saw the same injury to her back today too.  I have a chicken saddle in case of injury.  I thought this was probably a good time to try it out before it got too bad.

I thought it would be a difficult procedure.  I found the key was to bring her into the coop and have her in my lap.  For one, no one else could bother us.  Secondly, it gave me a better angle to get the straps up over her shoulders and secured properly.  In the pictures above she was kind of pouting at the indignity of it all.  It took her a few minutes to get her wing feathers just right.  She fussed at the elastic straps around her wings for a bit.  Finally I was ready to let her go back out.

Amazingly, no one really gave her a second look at her new apparel.  She seems to have adjusted to her new duds just fine.  I ordered a bunch more since I believe this could be an ongoing problem.  In the picture just above you can see her pecking at a Flock Block.  I was hoping their pecking instincts would be more focused on that than on each other.  Apparently not.

So, then I came out a little later to check on Ebony and make sure she had not gotten into any trouble with her pretty purple saddle.  She was fine, but what I found was not fine.  Now Ivy, who until sometime today was my only pristine chicken left. She had beautiful full feathers, not a pick or peck on her ... until today.  For whatever reason, Rachel decided it would be great fun to come up behind her and pick out her butt feathers. Why!!???  Why would a chicken decide to pick out fluffy butt feathers??  Oh, but she did and did a real good job too.

Oh yes, just as bald as can be.  Now what do I do about that??  I may actually have to put a diaper on her to give her protection.  Protection for more of Rachel's picking (she may be done, I hope) but also against the frigid cold we are suppose to get later this week.  Can you imagine a chicken with a frostbit butt??  Oh the joys of chicken keeping.  They do keep me on my toes.  Can't wait for spring when there will be more for them to do.

Namaste and Aho

Monday, December 30, 2013

#5 How to Heat the Zen House Without Burning up the Chickens

Okay, well in my last post I was trying to decide how to give the Zen House girls a little extra heat so they don't get frostbite in the really really really cold weather (ok, not the -40 I have been reading about from other chicken owners).  It's the single digits and below that has me concerned.  All the girls have a single comb which makes them more susceptible to frostbite.  I did not know this.  So ... because the Zen House apparently does not have quite as much ventilation as it maybe should have, hence, some frostbite areas seen on the tips of combs, we decided to supply some supplemental heat.  That in and of itself brings up a whole lot of controversy.  I really don't want roasted chicken over an open flame in the coop.  I looked at and bought a flat panel radiant heater thinking that would do the trick.  Here is what I got:

We plugged it in to see how hot it got; there is no thermostat.  After about 15 minutes it was very warm to the touch; I could not keep my hand on it.  Hmm, that doesn't sound like a good idea.  The coop is fairly small.  I think it would get too warm and what if a chicken got squished up against it??  So, back to the drawing board.

John went out the next day to the local farm store and brought home a little outdoorsy looking space heater.  It's electric, but with a fine mesh over the heating elements, a thermostat and a way to hang it.  We put it up last night.  It's the perfect size.  The fan noise is very soft and the thermostat is marvelous.  We set it at its lowest temp and by golly, I can keep the coop at a very reasonable 32 degrees.  Not so warm as to shock them going outside, but warm enough to keep them safe.  Here is what it looks like:

We can keep it far enough away from the chickens that they don't get blasted, but it's enough to take the frigid out.  Tonight it's suppose to drop into the teens, but I won't turn it on; I know the coop will stay much warmer than that and it will be fine.

We plan on doing regular maintenance on it to keep the dust out; that would be another problem with fire hazards.  I'll let you all know how this all turns out.  So far I am very hopeful.

Namaste and Aho!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

#4 Subzero Temperatures Last Night

Well, it seems the girls are becoming more acclimated to the cold weather.  Not that they want to go outside or anything, but they do seem happier inside than they did.  They do like to be visited though.  I get "attacked" by Ebony and Gretchen practically the moment I get in the coop and get their door closed.  They do love to sit on me and talk to me face to face.

I couldn't get Gretchen to move over to get her in the shot.

Raisin time is still their favorite.  They do get so excited.

Last night it got down to -4 degrees.  I don't have any heat source in the coop.  I don't have anything suitable yet.  However, I did purchase a flat electric radiant heater to mount on the wall behind their roost for when it gets horribly cold.  Having it is probably more for our peace of mind more than anything else.  I don't know that it will even ever get turned on after seeing the girls this morning; they seemed happy and active. Gretchen had already laid her egg and Ebony and Ivy were in the nesting box getting ready to lay theirs.  And actually, the temperature in the coop was 10 degrees.

Now the dogs on the other hand ... well.  They, Max and Buster, are not in the house dogs.  They stay in their 10'x10' dog run during the day when it's nice enough out.  At night and when it's super cold they stay in their wire kennels in the barn.  I put hay in the kennels for them.  It's like Christmas for Max when I put fresh in his; he loves to arrange it all.  Anyway, I was concerned about the subzero temperatures last night and decided they probably needed a little extra heat.  I used a heat lamp secured to a water bucket that could not tip over.  Buster was not at all sure about that red light shining on him, but I figured he would get over it.  This morning when I came out to the barn to feed, Buster had built a hay wall in front of the heat lamp (oh yeah, smart dog to put flammable material in front of a heat source).  It wasn't too much in front, but ...

Maybe I will use the new heater for them instead.  Hmm.

Have a Great Holiday!!

Monday, December 23, 2013

#3 Cold, Snowy December Day at the Zen House

Yes, it certainly has been a cold December.  We now have 5 inches of snow on the ground and it is 6 degrees outside.  There is a wind chill advisory until tomorrow afternoon. Wind chill is suppose to go down to 15 below and 25 below zero.  Brrr.

Do you like my giant shadow?

 I guess it's not too much of a stretch to say that the chickens are NOT happy about this.  They are, of course, staying in their coop.  Keeping it well ventilated without being drafty is the tricky part.  I worry about them getting too much humidity in the coop and causing respiratory issues.  That would be very bad.  I did see some moisture on their window (not much), so I cracked their pop door open for some fresh air.

Interestingly, I did get 3 eggs already today.  Ivy, Ebony, and Gretchen have contributed.  Penny may before days end.  Yesterday I only got 2 and it was much warmer (still snowy); Ebony and Gretchen were the workers.

Tonight's air temperature is suppose to get down to -7 degrees and stay below zero for several hours. This always causes concerns, not only for the chickens, but for my other barn animals too.  Today, Hanna, one of my barn kitties, decided it would be a good idea to go out while I was dumping manure.  I saw her in the snow and told her she needed to get her little kitty butt back to the barn before it froze off!  By the time she made it back, and she had only gone maybe 11 feet, her feet were hurting from being so cold.  She was actually growling, she was so mad.  I tried to help her warm her feet, but I really think she thinks that I do this.  Oh, no, trust me, I do not make this frigid weather.  She keeps looking at me like I should be able to fix it.  Would if I could.

Hanna in the summertime

The good news is that tomorrow, Christmas Eve, it is suppose to warm back up into the 20's.  That almost sounds tropical.  I don't think it will get that warm with all the snow on the ground, but we can always be hopeful.

Have a safe and wonderful holiday season!!

Friday, December 20, 2013

#2 Penny Gets Some Alone Time

I told the girls yesterday that it was not going to be as nice today.  Unfortunately, I was right.  It wasn't so cold as it was windy with freezing drizzle ... nasty. All the girls except for Penny decided they wanted to go outside anyway.  I gave them their apples, which they pecked at eagerly.

When I came back to them after doing the other chores (feeding dogs, cats, horses, and cleaning stalls) they were all under the coop trying to stay out of the wind; except for Penny who had stayed inside.  As I made my way into the coop to clean it, she came and talked to me for bit, very unlike her to be that sociable.  I told her I thought she was a very smart girl for staying inside today.  And if she just wanted some alone time, this was the perfect time for it.  She had the whole coop to herself; food, water, light, out of the wind; I would certainly do it.

A few hours later, John went out to check on them and gather eggs.  Everyone else decided Penny had the right idea and had come back in.   I was so happy they really do have sense to come in out of the cold and ick.

During afternoon feeding I figured their coop would need to be cleaned again since they had gone back in.  When I opened the door, Ebony popped out as did most everybody else.  The wind had quieted down considerably and the freezing drizzle had stopped thankfully.  They seemed a little happier with the weather even though they still spent most of their time under the coop.

A big winter storm is predicted for our area Saturday night and into Sunday.  We will see how that pans out.  Hopefully it won't be as bad as they say.  I know the chickens are hoping that too.  They are definitely not snow girls!

Till next time.  Namaste and Aho.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

#1 Let Me Introduce You to the Zen House Chicken Flock

My name is Susanne and I live on a small farm in NW Missouri with my husband, John.  We decided it would be a good idea to start raising chickens so we would have our own farm fresh eggs and we would know where they came from.  We started out last March with 6 cute little peep peeps, 3 Rhode Island Reds and 3 Black Sex-Link pullets (and yes, they actually were all pullets, yea).  We brooded them in our back bedroom, first in a large tote, which they grew out of surprisingly quickly, and then in a dog crate.

As they started to grow and moved into their dog crate, we began naming them. After all, they really aren't farm animals, they are really pets with benefits.  These are chickens that will die of old age (hopefully).  We made a list of names and started the process of trying to distinguish the red ones from each other and the black ones from each other.  As they grew, they began having ever so slight distinguishing features making the naming process easier.   One day one of the red peep peeps jumped up on her perch, looked at me and I swear I heard her clear as day, "Hi!  My name is Gretchen."  Well OK then, so what if that wasn't one of the names on the list, if that what she says her name is, then by golly, it is.  So, one down.  The other two RIR's are Rachel (named after one of my co-workers who really wanted a chicken named after her) and Penny (yes, as in Henny Penny).  The Black Sex-Links are Ivy, Raven, and Ebony.

In May, we moved them to their big girl coop.  We left them inside for about a week so they would understand that this is where they live and where they sleep.  They had to stay in a little longer because we got 4 inches of snow in the middle of May. Really!?

Finally it was time for them to venture out, but, what's that?  They would not come out of their coop.  They would stand in the doorway and look out, but they were too afraid to venture forth.  Finally, someone got brave and started down the ladder.  Then out they all came.

Gretchen and Ebony are the two friendliest girls.  They like to jump up on our shoulders, or in Gretchen's case, stand on the top of our head and go for a ride.  They come and talk to us as we clean their coop in the morning bock bocking about everything that has happened so far that day.

They live in their Zen House coop with Buddhist prayer flags hanging from their enclosure.  They spend most of their time in a 12 x 12 yard, well protected from predators (the neighbor's dog CoCo and from hawks).  During the warm months, we let them go out about an hour or so before sundown to free range; having fun scratching in the grass and finding the bugs we stir up for them.  We keep constant watch while they are out foraging; they are never left alone.

Now that it is December, it has gotten much colder.  I think the lowest it has gotten is 0 degrees F.  They are not fond of the cold and they certainly are not fans of snow.  The first day it snowed Ebony was on her way out the door and did a quick turn around as soon as she saw the snow.  No one ventured out that day.  The next day I had more of the snow swept away so most of the ground was visible.

Finally they were ready to emerge.  Oh, they were so happy.  Penny spent a good 45 minutes taking an extensive dust bath and preening her feathers.  The others joined in after they were done pecking around their yard.  I'm sure I heard them say, "Oh dirt, I love you!"

They have been having a lovely time being outside this week.  The temperatures have been in the 40's and 50's.  I told them to embrace this weather while they have it as we are getting all kinds of weather advisories popping up on our phones; freezing rain and snow for the weekend.  How fun!  Not.

Stay tuned to see what happens this weekend to the girls of the Zen House.

Namaste and Aho