Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Making Room for Baby

Can you ever have enough chickens?  There are so many cool breeds that the answer for me is a resounding "no".  I always seem to want more.  My husband likes to tell the story of how we ended up with our initial 6 hens.  The short story goes like this:  I wanted 6 and he wanted 4, so we comprised and got 6.  Anyway, it's all good, because I think he likes chickens as much as I do.

So, I've been thinking about expanding the coop for some time now.  I'd like to have more chickens, plus I'd like to give everyone more room to run around and do chicken stuff.  I'd always imagined that my chickens would be able to free-range, but a boom in the local hawk population has made my backyard a pretty dangerous place for chickens.  Here's a juvenile hawk that's been enjoying the hospitality of one of my bird baths.  He was also enjoying the fish in the koi pond until we closed the sushi bar with a bit of bird netting.

With so many gardening projects on our plate, enlarging the chicken coop was a pretty low priority until recently.  I came home on August 2nd and found a broody hen.  If you've never experienced a broody hen before just imagine a really tough gangster chick.  A broody hen ruffles her feathers until her body is twice it's normal size.  The feather ruffling is accompanied by an unmistakable growling noise that unequivocally states "Back up off my nest yo!".

Broodiness isn't something you can plan for or have any control over.  It's a hormonal change that occurs naturally in hens.  When a hen is broody she wants to hatch eggs and poor Pansy really wanted to hatch some eggs.  Since we don't have a rooster, none of our eggs are fertile. Fortunately, Laura of Wills Family Acres, volunteered to share some fertilized eggs with me so Pansy could be a mom.

Here are Pansy's 5 fertilized Brahma eggs, which we picked up on August 7th.  The eggs are marked with a black line to differentiate them from other eggs that might be laid in the communal nest boxes that chickens share.

Now that a sudden, unplanned flock expansion was staring me in the face, I decided I better shake a tail feather and get started on plans to enlarge the coop.  In the pictures below, the coop addition has  been framed out by my hard working husband.  The plan is to have a 12 X 24 foot fenced enclosure at the back of the existing coop structure.  Within the 12 X 24 foot enclosure, there will be a second smaller coop, which will be used as a brooding/grow out pen.  This will give the babies a safe place to grow.
Side View of Addition

Rear View of Addition

View from inside the current coop.
On August 25th the chicks hatched.  Luckily, we were home at the time.  It was pretty exciting after waiting almost 3 weeks for the big event.  The first chick to be born was a Buff Brahma that we named Mushi.  Mushi means hello in Japanese.  Here's our first view of little Mushi still a little damp from hatching.

A few hours later Mushi was joined by another Buff Bramha chick which we named Arigato.  A third chick born on Saturday night died the next day, and the remaining 2 eggs were unceremoniously booted out of the nest by Pansy on Sunday afternoon.

Mushi and Arigato became fast friends.  It was easy to get pictures of them together, because they seem to enjoy each other's company and warmth.  Plus, when you sleep standing up, I guess you need someone to lean against.

Late on Saturday, we headed in to Callahan's to purchase 4 more chicks.  We purchased 2 Dominiques and 2 Iowa Blues.  These 2 breeds were the youngest available.  They were born on August 22nd.  Getting the youngest chicks possible was essential to our plan.  

On Saturday night after dark, we planned to sneak the new chicks into Pansy's nest to see if she would accept them.  The grafting process, as it's called, went off without a hitch, and Pansy accepted the babies as her own.

The new chicks seem to fit in just fine.  Mushi and Arigato quickly made room in the stand up sleeping party for little Penny (Iowa Blue).

Because the new chicks are a little older, they were ready for some advance chick training in how to scratch and dig.  Pansy seems to be saying, "First you dig a nice hole, then it's butts up, beaks down, let's see what you found."

Chicks spend most of their time eating, sleeping, pooping and trying to keep warm.  I've always enjoyed "chicken TV", but "chick TV" is even more fun.  Check out this series of photos in which Mushi tries her best to get a little warmth from mom, who just doesn't seem to be helping out.
"I'm cold.  Where's the door to the warm place?"
"Warm me."
"Ah, come on now."
"Almost there."
Mom and chicks are currently living in a temporary brooding pen separated from the other hens. Given the opportunity, the older hens might kill the babies, so we'll keep them separated until they are old enough to fend for themselves.  Aren't they adorable?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Hill Country Keyhole Garden

I first read about keyhole gardening in the February 2012 issue of Texas Co-Op Power magazine.  In the article - written by G.Elaine Acker with photos by Bill Smith - Deb Tolman describes a interesting method for producing food even during times of drought.  Here's a page from the article which shows a diagram and some simple steps for getting started.  For the full article visit, Keyhole Gardening.

The idea of a keyhole garden, so named for it's interesting keyhole shape, is to produce food using minimal water and maximum recycling.  What a great concept!

The basic structure of a keyhole garden consists of a 6 foot circle of rock stacked 3 feet high. The structure is filled with layers of cardboard, phone books, or recycled paper.  Soil is added to the top few inches for planting. 

A small notch is cut out of the circle to allow access to a 4 foot tall wire mesh tube that sits in middle.  Compostable materials and water are fed into the tube to provide moisture and nutrients to the garden. 
While I was contemplating where I could build one of these, this keyhole garden, deep in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, was already growing cucumbers.  Complete with it's deer proof fencing, this garden is sure to provide food for years to come.  Well done!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Save Some for Me!

Over the years I've had encounters with a variety of wildlife.  One of my most notable experiences was my attempt last summer to capture a rogue armadillo that was ravaging my garden.  I set out a Havahart trap in an armadillo traffic zone, but did I catch an armadillo?  Noooo!

I caught several raccoons, an opossum, a bunny, and a roadrunner.  We let them all go free, but the experience underscored the abundance of wildlife in the area.  I have a hunch that if I put out a trap with some food, I could probably catch something every night of the week.

Growing fruits and vegetables with nature waiting patiently nearby to steal your harvest can be a serious problem.  In my garden, I've seen raccoons flatten a patch of corn overnight.  And, who hasn't had a rascally squirrel steal that perfect tomato?  It's so frustrating.

There's an old saying that goes something like this, "One for the blackbird, one for the crow, one for the cutworm, and one to grow."  The idea is to grow extra knowing that nature will claim her share.

I do tend to grow a little extra, but none of my experiences prepared me for the party that took place in my melon patch.  In one night, I lost 8 melons.  Hey, you silly varmints, save some for me! 

Needless to say, all remaining melons were harvested and left to ripen in the safety of my kitchen.