Chicken Math Explained

Chicken math is well known among those who raise these birds. For most of us, something happens after you’ve watched your brand new chicks grow to pullets. The amount of chickens you intend to get doesn’t seem to be enough.

Then we meet other Chicken owners.

“Ooooooo your Black Copper Maran is beautiful.”

“I want to have some Silkies too!”

That’s how it starts for most I imagine.

For us, in March we started with 19 chicks. Ten Buff Orpingtons, five Welsummers (all female) ordered from the hatchery and four additional wild cards from the local farm store: Americauna and Mottled Java breeds,

A few Buffs didn’t make it shortly after arrival and the rest of the Buffs, except for one, turned out to be roosters instead of hens.

Our first time raising chickens has been interesting.

I tried keeping a rooster, Jackson. I adored him. I would bring my camping chair into the run and he’d come along and sit in my lap. By the time he reached 6 months, he was a jackass. I was attacked everyday. And while I know he was doing his job, protecting his ladies, I grew tired of our daily dance.

I still have a day job and I currently don’t have the capacity to manage a flock, three dogs, a stressful job and a rooster who couldn’t wait to kick my ass everyday.

He had to go.

So I posted him on Whidbey Island Backyard Farmers Facebook Page and hoped for the best.

Last week, I had a taker. She needed a rooster for her 30 hens, now we just had to catch him without injuring him our ourselves.

It took two days, about three pounds of sunflower seeds, a sheet and my husband’s capturing skills before we could secure him for travel. Within a few hours, Jackson was on his way to a larger haram. Far more than what he deserved, but honestly, I was happy he didn’t end up as Coq au Vin.

A few days later and I find myself scrolling through the Backyard Farmers Facebook page. People were downsizing and trying to find home for adolescent chickens. And as I was down quite a few chickens, I was willing to help out.

Fast forward 24 hours and my husband and I are sneaking two Plymouth Barred Rocks and two Silver-Laced Wyandottes into the chicken coop with the other ladies.

15 chicks-3 chicks+4 chicks-5 roosters-1 rooster (3 months later)+ 4 hens= beautiful flock of 14

That folks is how chicken math happens.

Harvesting the Grapes

It seems as though I blinked and summer disappeared. Fall has arrived and that means harvesting all the hard work put in over the last few months.

Before digging up our own crop for this week’s dinner, we volunteered with Whidbey Island Winery to assist in harvesting their Siegerrebe and Angevine grapes out at French Road Farm. It was therapeutic work after sitting in front of a computer all week.

We arrived around 8:30 a.m. received a pair of clippers, a bucket and some basic instructions:

  • Keep the bucket close to the vines so you don’t lose grapes
  • Cut close as you can to the cluster of grapes
  • Don’t cut yourself with clippers

In about four hours we all harvested about 10,000 lbs of grapes that would be crushed after lunch.

The work was rewarding for me. Perhaps because I only had to harvest for half the day, but each bucket of grapes made me smile.

I loved the time in the vineyard and knowing that we had some small bit of sweat equity in what we will probably drink down the road.

The lunch and wine the winery provided didn’t hurt either, but just as rewarding was meeting people in our community who joined us in this endeavor.

Community. Wine. Food. Farm.

(and ocean and mountains)

It’s why we moved here all along.

Rooster paranoia

Early March our baby chicks arrived and I became a mother hen in training. Since then, my husband and I have found our stride as chicken owners. The run is secure, we have automatic feeders and water systems (because, hey, we still have day jobs) and the chickens find safety in a small coop while we complete the larger one.

While the chicks were in the brooder,  we spent evenings entertained by Chicken TV which was better than actual television. We not only spent time watching them, but holding them and letting them climb over us while discussing the different kinds of eggs we’d expect. 

Just before transitioning them from the brooder to the coop, the Buff Orpington pullets loved nestling into our laps. I enjoyed watching as one would nestle down as I ran my hand gently over its head down to its tail. It was so amazing seeing how much these birds had grown in a matter of weeks.

Now, 15 weeks later, we are hearing confirmed cock-a-doodle doos.

Yes. Plural. I’m sure there are two…maybe more? 

The moment crowing happens I immediately try to identify the owner by racing out to the run quickly, but calmly as I don’t want to frighten everyone. 

Scanning the 16 potential suspects for the roo, I see no evidence. They all quickly turn back to their scratching and pecking…occasionally looking over their shoulder:

“Nope, wasn’t me!”

According to those on the “internets” this is a rooster. What are your thoughts?

A couple of mornings ago after letting the pups and chickens out at 5 a.m. The crowing began again. 
I pressed up against the back window and watched in the twilight. 

Soon I recognized two Buff Orpingtons crowing.. one right after the other and flapping their wings with pride as the glottal cackle reared from their yellow feathered throats.

Damn it! 

This is Jackson, the hen. Until I know otherwise.

Unlike the Mottled Javas and Americaunas, our Buff Orpingtons and Welsummers came from a hatchery….we ordered all female. And while I realize that there is margin for error, when you consider we ordered 10 Buffs, three which died within five days…and now two are roosters? Something’s up, or I have some bad karma to remedy.

I began consulting The Chicken Chick, YouTube, and my Facebook Group, Backyard Chicken Project. Apparently, one of the markings is the tail feathers. If they curl down and you have a “sickle” tail feather, you have a rooster. 

This is how I came to name “Jackson”…the Buff who I originally thought was doing the crowing….all the telling signs…thick legs, big feet, tail feathers bending downward like a sickle….but I haven’t seen him, or her, crow.

I make time to sit in the run watching my Buffs specifically…and over time they all seem to have rooster signs. Could it be that the hatchery sent me all males instead of females? 

I now have rooster paranoia. The struggle is real people. 

As I heard the crowing again this morning, I chose to forgo going back to bed and took a camping chair and my coffee to the run. 

I took a deep breath and for the first time in a couple of weeks took pleasure in the chicken antics: the scratching and pecking, the squealing at finding an oversized leaf, the pecking at the flowers on my boots, and the glaring curiousity as to why I’m sipping my coffee with suspicion. 

I browsed my phone and found a video showing hens crowing...as I played it, the chickens listened attentively. Maybe someone would crow, simply to copy? 

Perhaps I have a prideful feminist hen who refuses to give into her assigned role. Possibly, she’s choosing to copy the rooster representing the telling roo sign of that sickle tail feather. Or this hen was simply meant to be a roo, but it isn’t giving in until the bird gets the deserved assignment: that she is, in fact, actually a he.

If that is the case I respect that, and welcome it. How do I question nature?

Too many of us on this earth live lives for others….only because others perceive us to be a certain way, a certain person, personality…a certain gender. 

And for a period of time, it’s easier to be what others expect. Until it isn’t. Until nature rears her beautiful head forcing us to own our identity. Either in a loud cheer or fearful silence.

As I review these dynamics, one of the suspect roos clumsily makes its way in my lap. 

We looked each other over. I take another sip of my coffee and the bird settles down perching itself on my right thigh and finally resting its head on my left. 

And just like I did weeks before, I run my hand gently down from its head to tail. The bird closes its eyes. 

Relaxed.

We’ll all figure this out eventually.

Sound Goals: A mile in Puget Sound

As my bare feet touch the water I’m comforted that my 7mm wetsuit and cap may be enough to keep me warm during my first open water swim in Puget Sound. The water temperature today: 56 degrees, but I don’t retract from the cold. I look down at Sophia and Kristi’s feet as we enter the water. They have neoprene boots. I chose not to purchase them because I worried it would be more equipment to adjust.

Thankfully Saratoga Passage today was glass. Just seeing the calm conditions alleviated some of my anxiety from earlier.

Lined up with the others for the Whidbey Adventure Swim we all adjusted to the cold. Brief chats revealed swimmers came from all over the country and Canada for this U.S. Master Swim event. I’m completely out of my league here, but my goal this year was to swim a mile comfortably in the Sound by the end of the summer. Today I would try to swim 1.2.

The horn sounds. The salt water burned my face momentarily as I dove toward the buoys marking the turnaround point. I’m not a fast swimmer. The course would take me about an hour to complete.

An hour in this cold water. Why am I doing this? I love to swim but the pool is warmer, easier. I don’t need a wetsuit in the pool.

My wetsuit. It’s so buoyant and it feels so unnatural as I work to dig through the water. I feel like lead and it doesn’t feel like I’m necessarily moving forward. Am I kicking? I kick harder.

Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. I have to find a rhythm.

Looking up to breathe and mark my point, the buoy I’m striving for seems so far and the majority of the swimmers are already way ahead of me. I’m now alone in the water. My heart is racing because I remind myself I’m in the ocean and no longer surrounded by my peers. My mind wanders to what lies beneath the Sound.

Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. Don’t think about what is below.

Looking up again I see a paddle boarder and a kayaker. I see a thumbs up as I look up again to breathe. I’m on course, I’m doing this. People are watching me. I have to settle in and get my mind on track. I’m not here to be the first one out of the water. I’m here to finish.

Each time my face enters the water, I try to notice the ocean floor. A huge Dungenous Crab scuttles across the floor. Is it crabbing season yet? The seagrass is flowing toward me. I’m going against the current which explains why I feel like lead.

Finally I’m turning at the halfway point. I met the time requirement which was to finish half the course in 30 minutes or they would’ve turned me around sooner. I’m going to finish this.

My face is no longer cold and I’m now working with the buoyancy of my wetsuit, being more buoyant makes it easier to focus on my stroke, but my feet. My feet are freezing. I begin to covet the boots that Sophia and Kristi are wearing. All I can think about are those boots now. Black, snug neoprene would feel so good right now. I’m still in swimmer survival mode, breathing every two strokes. I need a new rhythm, perhaps I can gain a little ground. I decide to add four strokes in between each breath as much as possible. I count them off.

One, two, three, four breathe. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. One, two, three, four breathe….this becomes my new rhythm.

But my feet are so cold.

Damn. I have to get those black boots. I try to wiggle my toes while kicking at the same time. My toes move. A good sign. If I have hypothermia, will I know?

One, two, three, four breathe. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. One, two, three, four breathe…

Now as I look forward to breathe the final buoy is in sight. Far but in sight. On my four stroke count I have more time to explore the sea floor again, but we are a little deeper. The water is darker, but I can make out bits of sand, shells in between the clumps of seagrass. And now the seagrass is bending toward my path. I’m riding the small current.

I pass over another crab, it’s on its back, motionless. I wonder what happened to it.

One, two, three, four breathe. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. One, two, three, four breathe.

I can hear voices as I near the final turn. Almost there. I wonder how long I’ve been in the water.

Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe.

The sea floor is getting closer to me. I’m basically at shore, I look up…just a few more feet..but I’ve overshot the finish.

Damn it. The steps are far to my right.

Finally my hands hit sand. I try to stand, but my sea legs reject the land. My husband and Sophia are on shore cheering for me and I smile as I wobble to the steps to the timer which signifies my finish.

58:55

My 1.2 mile swim completed under an hour. Goal accomplished.

And now, I wonder when I can do this again.

Sound Goals: Prepping to swim Saratoga Passage

Prior to moving here I had some goals for myself: live healthier, hike, eat local, acquire outdoor hobbies to help that quest to live healthy….you get the idea.

After moving here, I signed up for an open water event in Lake Washington. I joined the Master Swim group here, trained and completed the course. It was amazing, but it fostered a new goal: swim one mile in the Sound comfortably by this summer.

Last summer I attempted to swim with an open water group here, but freaked out a little when I noticed the ocean floor visibility went a little cloudy. I maybe made it a quarter of a mile. But there was a part of that swim that was amazing. Seeing how clear the water is and the fish…

Today I’m participating in the Whidbey Adventure Swim for the 1.2 mile course in Saratoga Passage. I can swim a mile, but swimming in the Sound comes with a lot of other things to think of than swimming in the pool. I’m terribly nervous. Nervous about not seeing bigger sea life that may come toward me surprisingly, about the 55 degree temperature, being comfortable in my 7mm wetsuit…did I mention the cold? Then there’s the time requirement. I have to finish 1/2 the course in 30 minutes. In the pool, I have that covered, but in the ocean, depending on conditions. Not sure really.

So, here I go. Headed down to Langley’s Seawall Park. Wish me luck!

Tall ships along the water 

This week I caught a glimpse of the tall ships in their small parade of sails on their way to Tacoma for the Festival of Sails.

The parade of sail in North Puget Sound and the festival are intended to commemorate the 225th anniversary of Captain George Vancouver’s exploration of Puget Sound.

Farm and garden DIY: The never ending chicken coop build

“Hey, what do we have going on this weekend?”

It’s a common question Josh asks each week. The common answer is: “Finishing the chicken coop.” 

Except these days I may insert an expletive in there somewhere.

The Chicken Palace, as we tend to call it these days, has been in progress since the end of March and I’m ready for this to be completed. It has pretty much consumed every weekend and I’m ready to get in some serious hiking.
We’ve been here for a year now and the last six months have been all about our chickens, their coop and our garden. 

The garden is fenced, planted and we are seeing great progress with our seedlings. I think we may be literally giving carrots and peas away in a couple of weeks. The chicken area though continues to be a constant work in progress. 

The run was already in place but needed some securing. The coop however is another matter. 

Josh made plans for a custom built coop. It will be a 12×12 box for our current flock of 16. Why so big? Wel we want to add chicks in the future, right? The plan is to have a slanted roof a cottage style door and window. The nesting boxes are fancy…the will eggs roll to the front. Once complete it will hold at least 40 chickens. 

Not that we necessarily want 40 chickens, but we dream big here. 

We finally have three walls framed and this structure is actually beginning to look like something may be completed one day. Today we are framing he roof and the front for the door and window. The hope is that we can complete this before the end of the month so our chickens will have a larger home and so we can start enjoying life outside our farm here and around the Sound.

Mother hen in training

I’ve started this post in my head several times beginning the day I ordered our chicks from Meyer Hatchery. I wanted to share how I anticipated the arrival of 10 Buff Orpingtons and 5 Welsummers, but the anxiety of it all and the realization that I wasn’t prepared.

Well wait. I was, but my brain gets the best of me and I’m sure like any new mom, we want the best for our new little ones. I’m a first time chicken mom and I was a wreck. When would the post office call me upon their arrival? Will the box be chirping or quiet? (Please don’t let me get a quiet box) Do they have enough water? Can everyone get to the food? Why isn’t that one moving? Are they warm enough? Too warm?

img_6238All chicken knowledge I consumed the weeks prior in preparation of their arrival just disappeared. Just keep the chicks alive….easy enough, right?

I was happy to hear them chirping from the box. And like any good mother, I had the car seat warming for them and I gently strapped them in for the drive home. In pure documentary fashion, I texted a quick pick of them all buckled in and sent it to my husband who was traveling that week.

“It’s official. You are now a crazy chicken lady.”

He had no idea.

Once I got the ladies home, it was time to place them in our homemade brooder. Here img_6231that knowledge which I thought escaped was coming back. The brooder had been prepared the night before and the thermometer read that the temperature was holding around 98 degrees. All the chicken prep reading I did said the temperature should be around 95-100 degrees the first week. If the chicks huddled underneath the light it was too cold, and if they strayed from the light it was too warm. What you want is to have the chicks form almost a perfect circle on the edge of the heat lamp.

I quickly picked each one up and placed them in the brooder after checking for “pasty butt” and attending to those affected. Before letting the chicks explore their new home, I dipped their beaks into the water I had prepared with electrolytes. Apparently, chicks need to be shown where the water is located and they take it from there. Fourteen chicks were now successfully drinking in the brooder and, for the moment, free from pasty butt, but one sweet girl wasn’t doing well.

After attempts to feed her water from a syringe, she seemed to perk up, but later in the day when I checked on the girls, she showed no sign of life. It was hard, but I know this is part of it. I tried to guess all the things that could’ve happened: the travel, the temperature, or perhaps she was smothered under her siblings. All terrible, but the truth is, death is part of this. I know this, but it doesn’t make it easy.

A few days later, the girls were getting the hang of their life in the brooder, but on day three, we lost two more of our Buff Orpingtons. I was baffled as two losses in one day could mean something was terribly wrong. Everyone was eating and drinking and I was tending gently to rid them of pasty butt twice a day. I began Googling “buff orpingtons keep dying” to see if there were other stories, but found no evidence of anything wrong. Several posters from the chicken threads I found simply stated “sometimes chickens just die.”

That night before my husband returned home, I spent hours hovering over the brooder, looking for signs of ill chicks. All of them seemed strong, except for one. She was the smallest of the bunch and I decided I would make it my mission to help her survive if I saw a change in behavior. Maybe sometimes chickens just die, but this mother hen was going to do everything in her power to keep the rest of these ladies alive.

That night I watched over the little chicks until they all one by one slowly fell asleep, not directly under the heat lamp, but in a perfect circle on the edge of the lamp. Just the way they should be.

Perhaps this mother hen knows how do take care of her baby chicks after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The quest to make cheese

Yesterday was a fairly typical Saturday here on Whidbey Island: breakfast at Muk Cafe, browse the Bayview farmers market, and a stop at the farm supply store for whatever. Except this:

“Let’s make mozzarella!”

Our friend Marnie was visiting from Austin, and we talked most the morning about enjoying the fresh produce and meat available locally, as well as the availability to purchase raw milk.

A while back, Marnie had successfully made her own cheese with raw milk from the farm where she participates in a work share program. I was excited to learn how we could do this on our own and we needed three key ingredients: 1/2 gallon of raw milk, rennet and citric acid. The citric acid we finally found, but after searching far and wide on the island, no luck on the rennet so we had to lower our expectations from mozzarella to ricotta.

 

It took some time to carefully heat, monitor the temperature and stir the raw milk mixture before we saw cheese curds, but it finally happened. And after straining the whey from the mixture, we ended up with more ricotta than we expected.

Delicious, fresh, creamy ricotta.

After mixing the ricotta into a pasta sauce, we discussed other cheeses that were fairly easy to make such as mozzarella and chevre. Savoring the ricotta cheese over dinner, I realized that it may be hard to purchase ricotta cheese at the grocery store. I’m sure one day practicality will make me do it, but this is definitely something I’m going to try again.

Before going to bed, I searched where to find rennet. Why Amazon, of course!

My rennet will be here in a week and if all goes as planned, not long after, so will our homemade mozzarella.

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Apples: the new Labrador treat

Our apple harvest should be happening soon, that is if Daisy Bean doesn’t eat them all….

We’ve been trying to monitor the Lady Labs’ apple retrieval activity, but that’s easier said than done. Every time I turn around one of them has an apple….usually Daisy. It was cute at first, but things are getting out of hand. Two days ago my husband and I figured out Daisy had consumed three apples in an afternoon. While I’ve been trying to discourage their apple picking tendencies, it doesn’t seem to have any effect. 

This morning, as I let the girls out, I walked around the tree finding no apples on the ground. When I let them back inside for breakfast, I noted two apples near the porch. As they ate breakfast, I grabbed the notably mouthed apples and placed them into compost. My hope is that reinforcing apple nabbing as inappropriate behavior will eventually curtail such activity, but in a way, who can blame them? In Dallas there were only squirrels and birds to chase. Here they have deer, bunnies, birds to chase, and now, apples to retrieve in October.

In August, our new veterinarian noted the Lady Labs had gained half their weight in a year. This called for a reduction in calories for these maidens of mischief. Daisy, who is always hungry, is obviously protesting by nabbing the low hanging fruit on, what seems to be, a regular basis. We aren’t ruling out Little Bee as an accomplice, as she has been seen with a less than ripe apple in her jaws, but our repeat offender is definitely Daisy.

Before our fence was complete, the resident deer loved sneaking into our yard, reaching for our fruit by standing on their hind legs. 

While I haven’t witnessed this, according to my husband, Daisy took notes and has deployed the same tactic. She has great odds as the deer are now fenced out, thus less competition. So we do our best to make the rounds and pick up fallen apples. Out of sight out of mind right?

An hour into my workday this morning, I ended a call with a client and looked down at Daisy sleeping comfortably under my desk with her brow curled as if she’d had a tough morning.

And next to her was a green apple. I guess she’s saving it for later.