Monday, June 10, 2013

{Touring the Oak Shaded Estate} Jaunt to the Chicken Coop

Entry One: Why We're Taking an Estate Tour

As the first leg of our estate tour, won't you walk with me on my morning jaunt to my chicken coop.

I get more hits on this blog about raising chickens than raising children so I thought I'd make peace with the people surfing for that particular information and give them a free tour. :-)

I found this pot of rice in the refrigerator and, since I couldn't remember when it had been cooked, I decided the chickens would get a special treat today. They love leftover rice and it beats throwing it in the trash.

Out the door of my house we head to the back of our property...

So off we go...
...with my son's Jack Russell terrier rushing ahead of us.
He loves chicken jaunts.
He loves chicken eggs too. :-)

Bale of hay to the left, my husband got this past spring and I'm not sure what it was intended for as winter was over.
For now it's just sitting there.
In actuality, we don't have a chicken coop. We have a chicken tractor.
It can be hooked to the back of a tractor or a lawnmower and pulled to greener, cleaner pastures.
I prefer this because the blessed truth is these chicken are disgustingly nasty and messy.
A contained permanent space for a chicken coop would not allow the grass to ever grow and one section of my yard would be forever sickly.
In this picture you can see a favorably lush spot where the green-tarped chicken tractor used to be.
Let's just say that grass likes being fertilized...a lot.

Chickens will eat anything. And they adore leftovers. One day we had half a cake that wasn't getting eaten so we threw it into their cage.
My neighbor told me later that she took her 2 year old son out to the chicken tractor that very day. She asked him what chickens said and what they laid and what they ate, to which he happily declared, "Birthday Cake!"
Sweet story! :-)

I'm sure when he starts school, his kindergarten teacher will promptly and effusively correct him.
Luckily his mommy is a teacher as well. ;-)
Chickens are also instinctively insane. They will eat anything that worms, squirms and lurches underneath them. My brother-in-law, who raises chickens and owns The Chicken Whisperer Farm in Lafayette, LA, says that if chickens really did evolve from some type of dinosaur chicken, can you imagine one towering over you and instinctively plucking at anything that moves. Scary image! They are ruthless when presented food.

I really do love my chickens though. They are fun, very sassy, little creatures to have in one's backyard.
Out of 25 original chickens, we lost one and raised 24.
Sixteen of them were given to a man my husband works with and we kept eight. He loaned us his brooder so we could raise them from infancy then he took the majority of "pets" off our hands. We kept eight baby chicks to sustain our mini-farm.
 He has a full-size hobby farm. Our hobby farm is much like our estate, "minut" and very small in stature.
It was an old-fashion style of bartering. No money changed hands. We just helped each other out with what we had. Win~Win!
Today, three years later, we still have the eight chickens we originally raised from infancy and they're still laying. We ordered Rhode Island Reds because we wanted layers, not setters or hatchers. We just wanted the eggs.
On the day I took these pictures there were are six eggs...which means two chickens did not earn their keep last night. ;-)
They always lay their eggs in a back corner of the tractor. I guess where they feel the safest.

The good thing about bringing leftover rice to my sassy ladies is that I have a ready bucket in hand to place my eggs, since I often forget the egg basket in the house. Pecan grabbers make the very best egg grabbers.

And here is my son's rabid dog trying to antagonize the chickens on the other side of the chicken tractor. He doesn't attempt this when my husband is around but with me he likes to act "The Beast" with me.

"Come and get me!"
He fully expects to be rewarded an egg of his choice after his herding mechanism.
If I collect at least six eggs, I usually let him pick one.
I've heard it's good for a dog's coat and OB has the most wiry hair I've ever seen on a dog.

"Just one more. Plleeease!"
He carries it off and usually drills a hole in it then licks it clean.

I discover eaten eggs all over the yard and usually toss them back into the chicken coop.
Chickens will peck and recycle their egg shells as well as oyster shells which are known to give them calcium and, thus, harden the shells of future eggs.
(Like I said...chickens will eat anything.)

Broke this one in two. Must have been hungry.
After this, I freshen their water bowl.
It's simply an old water container that my husband cut in half.
See how filthy the bottom is at the end of the day?
Have I mentioned how nasty chickens are?
I also must place this tin can lid over the other eggs or OB will just help himself to more eggs.

After rinsing the water bowl, I put it back inside their coop and refill it using the water hose.
I guess not every farmer rinses out these nasty bowls but I find caring for my chickens very relaxing...most of the time. It's meditative in a strange way.
They really aren't high maintenance at all.
When I'm lazy or in a hurry, I don't rinse their water bowl. I don't even always fill it. I just make sure they have enough until tomorrow.
There have been times they have run completely out of food and we just open the door to their tractor and let them run loose. They are very self-sufficient.
We got them knowing these facts because if there's ever another hurricane evacuation, they will be left to fend for themselves.
It's nothing personal. I enjoy my chickens but they are not pets. They are work animals and I fully expect them to produce.
OB does too. :)
There have been months were they simply quit laying eggs.
At first I was discouraged.
I threatened them with the chopping block. A friend of mine threatened hers by talking about making a chicken and sausage gumbo.
My brother-in-law assured me they would soon restart and they did.
During winter the shorter days makes them sleep longer and they don't produce as well.
I mentioned that maybe putting a light in their sleeping quarters would help:
  • first, to keep them warm
  • second, so they wouldn't have such long nights and, by thinking it was day, would lay better.
My husband and brother-in-law looked at me like I had two heads:
  • first, chickens are farm animals and will do just fine in the cold as they will flock together thus warming one another
  • second, did I want them to stay awake all night long and become so exhausted they wouldn't lay or get at least some sleep?
Chickens are funny that way. As soon as the sun sets you won't see a single chicken in the outside section of the chicken coop. They all get on the rafters inside the coop, close their eyes and go to sleep.
Instinctive by nature.

Lesson learned: Chickens do not need a nightlight except if you're trying to hatch the egg without the momma. Most people learn that lesson in kindergarten. Evidently I didn't.
Chickens, mine anyway, tend to take a month off every year.
I guess everyone needs a vacation at some point.
The times they take vacations varies.
My friend recently texted me for two dozen of my eggs because her chickens had gone on strike.
In comparing notes with her, my chickens had already gone on strike through the whole month of January but were laying so plentifully this month that I was able to share the liquid gold.
So that's the first leg of our estate tour.
Hope you enjoyed and maybe learned a little something new.
Be back soon...

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