Smells Like Teen Spirit!

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Blue Andy has been curious and adventuresome since hatching. Lately, she has taken to roosting on the top of the coop and then leaping into the branches of the nearby fig tree or the 7 foot-high back fence. We added some poultry netting to the top of the fence to ensure she doesn’t adventure into the neighbor’s back yard.

 

The early Spring hatchlings are 9 weeks old and they are losing their skittish insecurities. As far as they’re concerned, the world is their oyster now! They are pretty much fully feathered in the plumage that will carry them through adulthood and more than half the size they will be when they are full grown. They spend days foraging, dust bathing and roosting outside and at dusk, they climb and fly up into their little house to sleep. They no longer eat chick starter, but have switched to what is known as grower or developer feed. This feed ration is higher in protein, but lower in calcium than the layer feed the big girls eat. Since they teens are still separated from the old hens by a bit of fencing, we just serve two different feeds and everyone is getting what they need.

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The five are starting to really show their personalities and they are all quite calm so far. They can’t wait to be freed from the henhouse at the first sign of daylight and come fluttering out into the run with a flap of feathers. Sprocket and Blue Andy are generally the first ones down and out, followed by Speckles and Buffy. Betsy, the Dark Brahma, is the mellowest, calmest pullet we’ve probably ever had and she never seems to be in a rush to do anything!

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One of their favorite perch spots–they perch up here and watch the big hens in their part of the run.

 

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Yep, we’re calling this one as a cockerel! The developing prickly spurs on the back of his shanks seal the deal.

 

We’ve been quite convinced that Sprocket, the Easter Egger/Ameraucana we hatched in the incubator,  is a cockerel since early on. Of course, we hoped that we would be wrong! This is our second Ameraucana baby and the second one to be a roo! While he hasn’t made any attempts at crowing yet, the growing tail plume, pointed saddle feathers and larger, redder comb have been pretty solid signs. We finally felt some prickly spurs developing on the back of his shanks so we can’t allow ourselves denial any longer–Sprocket is not just one of the girls!

 

Midsummer Garden…In a Tea!

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Somewhere around January, we started to work on a new herbal tea recipe. We were craving sunshine, flowers, and long days in the garden. We initially had a working mantra of “Summer Dreaming” since that is exactly what we were doing: dreaming of Summer. We think we’ve created a winner–a midsummer day in a nice cup of tea!

This blend includes a whole garden of organic herbs: lemon balm, spearmint, ginkgo leaf, chamomile flowers, catnip, lemon verbena, lemongrass, peppermint, lavender flowers, orange peel, wild cherry bark, and red rose petals. While this tea has plenty of calming herbs and is caffeine free, it is so tasty with a little zip of peppermint and ginkgo leaf as to be invigorating too.

You can find this loose leaf tea with our other blends in the Raggedy Hen Farm shop–we’ve named it Midsummer Garden! 

They’ve Come So Far

Seven Weeks with Names

 

We thought you all might like an update on the little flock of five we hatched in early February. Here they are now at almost seven weeks… (You’ll notice that “Betty” has morphed into “Betsy”–it wasn’t intentional, it just sort of happened!)

 

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And here they were back at two weeks…They are growing up so quickly!

Operation Integration

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The teens find a little safety in a corner of the run: Speckles (Rhode Island Red), Sprocket (at the back with the larger comb, an Easter Egger/Ameraucana), Betty (with the light head, a Dark Brahma), and Blue Andy (our Blue Andalusian). Life on the outside takes some getting used to!

The teens are almost seven weeks old and quickly outgrowing their grow pen. With the weather in the sunny sixties, we’ve decided it is time to start the integration with the big girls in the larger flock during the day.  Despite the fact that we follow every rule in the book and all the suggestions of the most seasoned chicken keepers–the first day was not a walk in the park!

These teens have been spending days outside next to the big girls for about three weeks and have had their grow coop right in the middle of the big run for the last week and a half or so. You’d think this would give everyone the chance to get good and used to each other. But, alas…

Before we opened the doors of the grow pen, we gave the big hens extra treats to distract them and make them think it was fun time. As soon as the pullets started to creep out into the larger pen, however, the big girls rushed into the grow pen–eager to find any morsels of chick feed that might be on the ground. This forced the teens out into the wide world and they took off running and peeping.

The way the pecking order works in a flock the size of ours, the old gals on top don’t really care much about the new interlopers.  They are secure in their position as Queen Hens. They do still peck, bump and dominate the other gals in the top six, but they barely noticed the teenagers in their coop. The most intense bullying, however, is coming from the two hens at the bottom of the current social order: Mavis and Dottie.

Dottie, our gorgeous Silver-Laced Wyandotte, is our current lowest ranking hen, followed by the stubborn and extremely dim-witted, Mavis (a Dominique). In the wonderful world of chickens, both of these gals have the most to gain my making sure the teenagers know their place. Plus, it is a ready-made group of underlings for them to share some of the pecks and pushes they’ve been subject to.

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Mavis has the classic Hollywood bully’s combination of stubbornness, dim-wittedness, and being a bit of an outsider from the in-crowd. She does not deter easily!

 

This bullying is a combination of charging and posturing, and actually trying to give the teens some hard pecks. For the first half hour or so, we stayed in the run with everyone to intervene every time Mavis and Dottie tried to get too aggressive–this generally sent the young ones squawking and trying to fly anywhere and everywhere–they ended up in water buckets, stuck in fences, and clinging to the sides of trees. We needed to remind the nasty ones that we were ultimately in charge and such poopiness would not be tolerated.

For a while, things settled down–the teens kept to one end and the big gals had 2/3 of the run. There was exploring, scratching, chirping, and posturing from afar. A temporary truce appeared to be called–with the emphasis on temporary! When the teens got a bit more comfortable and started to wander and the older hens got bored exploring the grow pen, Dottie and Mavis were back for some more struts, pecks, and growls.

We know from experience that this will be a process. As the younger ones get bigger and used to life among the hens, and the pecking order re-establishes itself, things will get into a new normal groove. Some people choose to avoid these challenges all together by having a flock where all the chickens are the same age and are together from the very beginning. While this works fine for folks with farms or room for big or multiple flocks, it is not very practical for the small urban chicken keeper.  We have to allow for the phasing out of the older hens as their laying decreases by bringing in some young pullets. If the teens had been raised by a mama  hen, she would protect them and help them to integrate into the flock, but there would still be some adjusting and reshifting of the pecking order. We have found that things don’t get good and predictably calm until the pullets start laying–then they seem to become fully-integrated members of the flock.

So, for the next week or so, they will all be having supervised integration time as we keep an eye on everyone and make sure the jostling, posturing, and pecking does not get out of hand. After all, there’s plenty of food, treats, and space for everyone!

 

 

Zone 8 Update

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Apple blossoms!

We’ve seen sun and we’ve seen rain…typical spring weather around here. The nights are still a bit cool, but we shouldn’t see any more frost now that we’re into April in our Zone 8 garden. We’ve planted out all the cool season crops and, since it has been so wet, we are in our customary battle with the slugs and the snails. We’ve also planted the potatoes and onions. We’ll be transplanting out the tomatoes we’ve grown from seed as they are outgrowing the cold frame and the weather is mild. Since they’ve been hardened off for a few weeks and they are going into a pre-heated (we cover it with plastic for a week or two) raised bed, they should be just fine. We’ll have covers at the ready in case we get an under-forty-degrees evening. Here’s a photo update of what’s going on around the garden…

 

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The leaves on the grape vines are unfurling.

 

 

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The strawberry plants are starting to blossom.

 

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All three of our hops vines are up and growing. These come back stronger every year and this is our third year growing them.

 

The next month will be a busy one for us and the garden plants. We are embarking on the time of year when it seems everything grows inches every day! Between planting, weeding, mulching, and other garden chores, we have plenty to do!

New Digs!

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I don’t know how other urban chicken keepers are, but for us, this has been an evolving journey. We started with a little flock of three chickens whose every antic we thought was amazing and now we have a larger flock, a better understanding of the ways of chickens, and a different relationship with our girls. Our definition of “free range” has morphed a bit as well.

As many of you know, we let our girls range all over the garden during the late fall and winter months. Early spring brings about the days of “supervised free range” during the time when we are home. This means we use fencing, wires and barriers to keep the girls out of our early spring plantings. By about NOW (mid-spring), the days of even supervised free range are temporarily suspended.  They are just too destructive to the growing garden. Last year, we built what we imagined would be a temporary run to keep them confined.  We then modified that a bit for the winter months. Now, we’re up to version 3.0 and we’re quite happy with it!

Teri wanted a run that gave the girls so much room, it would be the next best thing to having an entire yard and she wanted it to be pretty. While Kori doesn’t really mind using recycled and reclaimed materials, Teri was ready for something that looked permanent, while still being very flexible. This new run is approximately 20 x 12 feet or 240 square feet. We are able to put the little coop or the grow pen in the middle so the big girls can get quite used to the young ones (and vice versa) and the entire flock is exposed to the same worms, germs, and bacteria. There is access to early morning sunshine (when we get it) and there will be shade from the apple and fig trees since this is in the corner of our mini orchard.

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Would the big girls still like to have run of the yard? Well, yes, they would, but they are also getting used to the space of their new, expanded run. We’re hoping the teens will be a little more content from the beginning since this will be their home all along. Meanwhile, we were able take down all the makeshift fencing and barriers and our garden looks quite a bit nicer too!