A Chicken Named Dog

Adventures with a Flock Family

Day 18 — Part II

After the failed attempt with the incubator, we stepped back and reevaluated our approach.  Borrowing an old and used incubator, that was, itself, on the cheap side, was probably not a strong start.  Not have dedicated power was another.


Winter raged on taking the total of our chicken time.  We needed to ensure adequate water, shelter and support for the record lows accompanying the “polar vortex” and the frequent dips and stays below zero.  With the snow, though, also came the hatchery catalogs with their lists of interesting breeds and stories of chicken glory.


Would a Black Jersey Giant rooster get along with Sonny our Rhode Island Red?  Would a hen?  And look, the Blue Laced Wyandotte is a very pretty twist on the Silver Laced Wyandotte.  Would Dog the Hen, our Silver Laced Wyandotte, like a playmate?


It soon became clear that we would need to try and hatch again.  So, we went shopping and


This is like the new incubator, with circulated air and a humidity gauge…much better.

researching.  It turns out that the incubator we initially used has a long failure rate, even though it is preferred by the local farm supply store.  We decided to order online and Tori proceeded to begin gathering eggs.


The first batch went in, and we duly noted each egg’s characteristics, parentage and overall disposition.   Three times a day we would turn the eggs from an “x” to an “o”, note the humidity and generally check their status.  The days rolled on, and the candling indicated germination.  Joy was abundant.


Statistics say that the chance of the same exact scenario happening at two separate instances are, when controlled for the very factors that caused the first instance, are very small.


We beat the odds.  On day 18, six months later, another storm rolled in, and the one factor we could not control for stepped in again.  At 9:00 in the evening, the power went out.  Again.


to be continued…


Where have you been? Day 18.

It has been, if I am correct, quite a long time since the past post.

Let me bring you up to date…or at least get a running start at doing so.

Last fall we attempted to incubate about two dozen eggs in an incubator.  It was an exciting project to undertake, and we were doing it right.  We bought a log-book to record the activities, noting each of the three-a-day turns (“is it the ‘x’ side or the ‘o’ side?”), recording out attempts at candling (“Is that something right there?”) and temperature settings.

Then day 18.

It is about that time that the final turn is made in chicken development.  An increase is humidity is to occur (from mid 30% to around 60%), and one more day until no more turning (day 19 or three days before maturity/hatch date).

LED digital clock radio with analog AM/FM radi...

Blinking from an overnight power outage, the alarm set off alarms.

We woke up to a blinking alarm clock.  There are few reasons an alarm clock blinks.  The most immediate is that it has been reset due to a power outage.  Instead of 7:00 AM, the clock blinked 3:25.  We lost about 4 hours.  Even though we tried to regulate the temperature (our hand-me-down incubator had a sensitive little straight knob that adjusted the temperature), the temperature seemed to bounce around more wildly than we were comfortable with.

Day 18 we lost all our eggs/chicks.  The postmortem indicated that we had a high development rate up until the power outage.  Devastated, we focused on our mature birds through the record-low setting winter.

It just didn’t seem like the writing kind of period.

(to be continued…)

Chickens like the Spring as well

One wouldn’t know it, but Spring has actually sprung, even with the snow flurries in the air.  With the ground thawing, we have actually been able to till the garden.

A bit about our garden.  We do things on a scale…one which is a rather large scale.  We share the garden with my father-in-law, whose idea of a small garden is one that is about an acre.  So, when we till, it is an all-day event.

The girls in warmer times.

The girls in warmer times.

We were able to till this last weekend, and with that came moving the coops around, stringing a row (approximately 150 feet long) and putting some pea seeds in.  As the dirt was being foot-shoveled over the pea seeds, I noticed that the hens were watching.  I didn’t know that hens would pay attention, but there they were…looking at our rows.

Yesterday, Rebecca said that as soon as the purple coop was released to roam for a bit, they went right to the pea row.

So, beware.  Sneak your planting in unless you have enough to share.  :)

Egg-celent Cel-egg-bration for Easter

When one has a brood of hens working hard to provide organic wonders, that person has no need to color “white” eggs.  In fact, as we found out, the variation of color in our hen’s eggs allowed for a deeper and richer end egg product this last Easter.

A collection of our hen's hard work.


A collection of our hen’s hard work.

You may first notice that our hens lay a variety of colors (light brown, dark red, blue and green).  With these as a set of base colors, any additional color deepens in color, providing a richer color.

We tried to use natural coloring this year.  We cooked a beat, brewed some coffee and boiled an artichoke.  The coffee made a weak tan, the beat made an oily mess on the egg and the artichoke’s green, although nicely hued, didn’t take.

A blue egg with some additional blue hue.

A blue egg with some additional blue hue.

So, we went old-school.  Using the traditional vinegar-based egg coloring, with the handy little metal wire holders, plastic cups and wax crayons, we began to deepen the naturally occurring colors.

A blue egg turning green, with a "franken-egg" thrown in for contrast.

A blue egg turning green, with a “franken-egg” thrown in for contrast.

The blue, as you can see in the image, turned out a deep and dark royal blue.  Far from messing up the colors, the natural egg color enhanced the dye in a strong and engaging way.

Since we colored our eggs at the grandparents’ house, we had to accommodate Grandma’s fear that we wouldn’t have enough eggs to go around, what with Aunts and Cousins coloring.  So, the white eggs, bought from the local grocery chain, served as a good contrast to the power of our colored-eggs coloration.

Once we had the base colors, sparkles, wax accents and all of the other coloring fun could be added.  The results are seen below.  But I had to move quickly because not only are the final eggs visually impacting, they were delicious as well.

A basket full of colored goodness.

A basket full of colored goodness.

Spring is here, along with amorous predators

We have had two separate incidents in the last week that outline just how diligent we have to be to protect our birds.

The first incidence was last Wednesday.  I was gathering the evening eggs (the longer days are bring in a bounty of

Not someone you want to see in your hen-house.

eggs) when I opened the Purple Coop to find a possum hissing back at me.  It (I have no idea how to determine gender when the thing is hissing at me with its awful teeth) was sitting on two empty egg shells, and the hens were clumped outside the coop, up against the fence, huddled as far away from the thief as they could get.

We have a dog run made up of cyclone fencing panels.  To this we have added a running layer of chicken wire that skirts the lower two feet and extends out along the ground in order to deter/prevent burrowing under.

Possums must be able to climb a six-foot cyclone fence.  There was no burrowing (we still had snow, so I would have seen the tracks) and no other signs of forced entry.

Perhaps this explains the strange wounds on the hens’ behinds we have been noticing over the last week.

We also were surprised with the appearance of a particular type of weasel  the ermine.  While the Department of

Cute. Check. Eater of eggs. Check.

Natural Resources (DNR) indicates that their presence is rare, we found one…in the garden…with our chicken pens.

Actually, by the time we noticed the varmint, the chickens had already rendered it lame (its back, left leg wasn’t working), so catching it was relatively simple.  Let it run under a pallet and then pick it up by the scruff (which is not the approach I took with the possum).

As we relocated it down and across the road, we wondered if we shouldn’t have taken it across the river.

I hope we don’t see either of our two visitors again.

As for the rut, Sonnie, our big, red rooster had taken up arms, once again, to wage war against boots of all sorts.  He will defend against all.

The magnificent chicken

After a weekend of sadness (Goat, a large Auracana hen, succumbed to illness–RIP Goat), I thought it would be nice to celebrate the diversity and beauty of the chicken.  These photographs come from the work of Tamara Staples, whose two books of chicken glamour shots is certainly worth a look.







Avoiding “Killer Compost”

Real Compost

Real Compost (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As previously noted, we go to significant lengths to obtain organic straw and haw.  There are three very good reasons (two of which are ultimately part of the same reason):

  1. Non-organic straw and hay have been directly linked to allergic burns and rashes on our skin
  2. Our chickens and ducks eat the straw and hay, and we eat their eggs
  3. The straw and hay become compostable matter which goes directly into our garden–and we eat the garden products

So, whether the straw and hay intersects with our skin or other organs, what we introduce to the garden becomes a part of us.

So, we hook up the trailer and drive the 25 minutes to into the hinterland to a farm committed to organic growing.  His straw and hay is a bit more expensive, but thus far we have had no allergic burns, and we are optimistic that our compost will be “clean” as well.

MotherEarthNews.com has an update to an earlier story about “killer compost”–compost that once put in the garden or around plants, proves toxic to those plants.  The story, “Killer Compost Update: Herbicide Damage Still a Major Problem,” details how “persistent herbicides” refuse to break down, traveling from ground, through animal, through compost to the end-user, killing the very plants that the compost was supposed to nourish.  Persistent indeed.

The article outlines some very specific persistent herbicides found in toxic compost in Vermont last year (2012): picloram, clopyralid.  Since these are regulated and controlled, the researchers asked the Vermont Agency of Agriculture who was using these chemicals.  No one, legally, was using them for the prior two years.

Digging deeper, the researchers isolated the source not to the compost, but to the feed given to the horses from which the compost was made.  The herbicide had made it through the cutting of the field (which was the initial source of the spray), through the industrial feed/food manufacturing process, through the horses’ digestive system and through the composting process.  That includes cutting, processing, digesting and composting (which involves heat), and the persistent virulence of the product remained intact to the point of killing (it is a herbicide after all) the plants on the receiving end of the compost.

We will continue to make our own compost, with our own birds (they are fed organic feed) and unsprayed straw and hay.  We may not be completely clean (overspray from neighboring farmers may result in incidental cross-contamination–but hopefully in minute parts/(m)(b)illion), but I trust our birds to peck, scratch and lay cleanly.  And, as spring nears, their bedding will become a positive addition to our tomatoes, squash and sunflowers.

If, after reading the article linked above, you wish to act, I encourage you to follow the articles prompt and write to the following:

This has to stop. Clearly, EPA labeling requirements and state regulations aren’t working. Recycling organic wastes to maintain soil fertility is essential if we want a sustainable food-production system. Picloram, clopyralid, aminocyclopyrachlor and all similar chemicals should be banned, period.

To express your view on the use of these persistent pesticides, we suggest you send your comments to Richard Keigwin, director of the EPA’s Special Review and Reregistration Division, at keigwin.richard@epa.gov.

Chickens love running water in the cold weather

I have previously wondered how hardy our “cold hardy” chickens are during this colder-than normal winter.  One of the methods that we are experimenting with this year is continued running water.  Well, the real reason the water is running is that we did not have the

Artesian Well in Winter

Artesian Well in Winter (Photo credit: Tom Gill.)

foresight/resources/time to dig the electric water pump below the frost line, so we have had to scramble to erect a shelter (think pallet walls with a tarp, lean-to roof–Rachel calls it a manger) to provide some measure of protection from the elements and to trap the little heat from the heat lamps.  We have also had the pump running since November–not the most economical fix, and a spring/summer project to be sure.

Since we have the pump running, we have two open lines of continuous water, one hose going to the Drake House and one stretched the length of the garden to our older bird community (see the page “what the flock?“).  The drakes love the water, dropping down from above into their small, rubber bath (I think it is actually a small horse trough) allowing them to take a dip at any time with fresh water.  In fact I was worried about having water available to them through the winter cold, but since the water out of the well is around 40-something degrees, it is actually warmer than the ambient air, and certainly warmer than the frozen ground.  So I have found them standing in the overflow water that streams out of their coop.  I think their feet like the warmth.

With the other hose, we have used the running water to melt the snow pack in the dog run (we have a “dog run” for the chickens because of other peoples’ dogs–6×8 cyclone fence panels shaped in a sort of hexagon) which allows the hens access to unfrozen dirt.  We have also noticed that they too like to stand in the running water.

So, if you chickens get cold feet, just run a hose.  :)

Tonight’s low will be 9 degrees Fahrenheit.

Burger King Is Selling Horse Meat Instead of Pure Beef

People have often asked me why I am so diligent with my chickens, why I care so much about what I eat or my family eats, why I even worry about things like our food supply.  In our very uncertain world, there is much to be uneasy about, but I feel that when possible, our food should not be listed in that anxiety quadrant.  Enter the new flap about Burger King in the UK, the fact that Burger King is selling horse meat as part of its hamburger patty:

Burger King has faced allegations of orchestrating a cover-up of its links to the horsemeat scandal in order to give it time to find an alternative supplier.

It is currently shipping in tens of thousands of burgers from suppliers in Germany and Italy in order to meet demand at its UK outlets.

It is known that the management at Silvercrest has been using a series of non-approved ingredients in their burgers for a range of household name brands.

These included meat off-cuts, including horse, that were imported in large frozen blocks from Poland.

The contamination has been going on since at least last May and potentially for up to one year, according to evidence presented to MPs earlier this week.

Tonight Burger King abandoned its earlier denials, saying: ‘Four samples recently taken from the Silvercrest plant have shown the presence of very small trace levels of equine DNA.

 One might wonder whether it really matters what type of ruminant we are consuming when eating hamburgers, because hamburgers aren’t really made with pork after all, but usually beef.  I think the crux of the issue is that people don’t know what they are eating, and that bothers them.  I like to know what I am eating. I like to know what my family is eating and where it has come from. I want to know that my food doesn’t have extra chemicals, or maybe pink slime, that McDonald’s used to use.
CafeMom spoke with a McDonald’s representative about pink slime:

For starters, that pink slime photo we’ve all seen online is a fake. “It is actually a meat production plant in China that we don’t even use,” Jan said. She also said that ‘pink slime’ has never been used in McDonalds’ chicken nuggets.

“Our chicken nugget is a piece of chicken,” she told me. “It’s a whole muscle chicken. I’ve been to the plant. I’ve gone all the way from ‘the chicken’ to ‘eating the nugget’ process and there’s nothing added to it. There’s the breading, of course. The chicken is formed, cut, and then it goes through the breading process and then a freezing process. There is nothing ever added.

Pink slime (which is technically called ‘boneless lean beef trimmings’) has been used in burgers by fast food restaurants and in hot dogs, but early this year, many major chains including McDonalds, Taco Bell, Kroger, and Burger King, announced they would no longer carry products that use BLBTYou can read more about the facts vs. fiction regarding pink slime on Snopes.com.

Aside from kind of gagging to myself at “whole muscle chicken” pieces deep fried or breaded, which I wouldn’t eat regardless of whether or not we kept chickens, there is an huge uncertainty about what is in our nation’s food supply.  Keeping chickens, for us, is a way to reclaim that certainty about what we eat, what we feed our families, and being able to be sure our bit of consumption avoids factory farms, or unintentionally eating horses, or unintentionally consuming ammonia, which is part of the pink slime derivative.

Are there others out there like us, who really have taken up chickens so that they know what they eat, what they feed their family?  If so, we would love to hear from you. What else do you do to find out about where your food comes from?

Martha Stewart Does A Segment on Chickens

This is an older segment from Martha Stewart’s show. I was first directed to the Martha Stewart website after reading an article my sister brought me from the Martha Stewart magazine.  I was prompted to look online and find out if Martha Stewart had produced any videos.  She had, and this is a pretty good overview.  The hen in the commentator’s lap, a woman who wrote an article about chickens for The New Yorker, looks like she would like to fight with Martha’s lap hen, and Martha makes for a suspense-filled beak dip with a chick (hoping she didn’t drown it). It’s worth the watch.

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