Here We Go!

024

Like most of the country, it is definitely still winter here in the Pacific Northwest. While we do not have the blizzardy deluge of snow our Eastern friends are seeing, our yard and garden are a bit of a muddy swamp from the days and days and days of rain we have had this season.

As we see February on the horizon, however, we know spring is coming and it is time to get cracking if we are to have a thriving urban farming scene again this year. We’ve run out between rainstorms to work on pruning the fruit trees and starting to shore up the chicken coop and run–mending any raggedy parts from seasonal damage. Soon, we will be re-covering the run with poultry netting and while the gals have had free range of the entire garden for the fall and winter, they will be sequestered in their summer digs so we can start the cool season planting.

This also means that we have started the first round of seedlings indoors–under lights and with heating mats for extra warmth. Last year, we had good success with all of our heirloom seedlings started at home, so we’re hoping all the collards, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, and more we’ve tucked into little pots will provide an abundance of food in the coming months!

007

And, of course, late January means new chicks here at Raggedy Hen Farm! We decided not to incubate eggs this year (partially because of the 8 hatchlings we had last spring, 6 turned out to be little roos!) so we figured out which breeds we wanted to add to the flock and marked on our calendar when they would be in at our local urban farm store. One of the strategies that works for us and our little city flock is to raise a handful of new chicks each year and “age out” the older gals. Last year, our oldest hens went to live on Kori’s mom’s place in Southern Oregon.

So far, one of our very favorite breeds is the rather utilitarian Rhode Island Red. Of our new little group, three of the chicks are Rhodies. Supposedly, they have all been sexed prior to coming to the store, so our chances are pretty good these pullets will be hens. Of course, this isn’t fool proof! We’ve ended up with a roo or two from store-bought chicks too.

Since it will be several weeks before the chicks are ready to live outside, we try to get them early enough that they are ready to go when our world warms up (but isn’t too warm) and the new chicks generally start laying mid-summer and, if we’re lucky, they young ones will lay a bit through the winter.

040

Meanwhile, we are thrilled to report that, so far, our bees are still alive and well–abeit in a small winter bundle–in the hive! On warmish, sunny days, we look for activity and a few bees will buzz in and out of the hive entrance. They are taking a gander to see if there is forage before heading back in to wait out the rest of the winter weather. As you may remember, we did not take any honey from the hive last year. In our three years of beekeeping, we have yet to have a successful wintering over here in our cold, damp climate and we wanted to do everything possible to ensure their survival. Last year’s new Warre hive is working well and staying snug and dry, so our fingers are crossed! We’re not out of the woods yet, of course, but as of today, there are still bees in that there hive.

So…even though it’s not spring yet, there are the earliest of signs and our urban farm chores are picking up!

052

Yes, this sunny yellow dandelion is blooming away in our damp January garden!

Pre-Spring Chickens

WP_20160118_001

We are back in business!

We have read and studied quite a bit about chickens and chicken-keeping, but there are some things we’ve learned that we haven’t found in any books. I suppose it is true that experience can be the best teacher–especially when it comes to the more subtle clues that all is well in chicken land. We thought we would share a few of the things we don’t think you’ll find in any books:

  1. Winter Chickens are different…We have found that most of our chickens stop laying by or right around the Winter Solstice and then we see the first eggs appear in the nest boxes just about 1 month later–by mid-January. I’m sure this is influenced by where we are in the world (the Pacific Northwest), but it has proven to be very consistent. During the Winter–November, December, and Early January–our hens tend to be rather quiet. Unless they are startled by a real or imagined predator, they go about their days without so much of a cluck or a cackle. They forage a bit, but spend a great deal of time huddled in sunny spots or preening or just looking rather sedate and mellow. We imagine that this has something to do with molting, but even those who molt early or not at all tend to get quiet during the winter time!
  2. Pre-Spring Chickens…We now know that certain tell-tale signs indicate the gals are getting back into the swing of things. First, we will start to notice more chatter in the chicken yard. They will start to talk to us, cluck around, and generally start making a bit more of a fuss. Of course, this isn’t nearly the cacophony that signals full spring and summer, but it is a start! We will also notice more activity. The gals will start foraging around the yard more and spend more time hopping in and out of the compost, turning over damp straw, and generally shaking off the stagnancy of winter–no matter what the weather happens to be like. Their appetites pick up and when we see a hen start to squat or crouch when we walk by, we know that she’ll be laying again soon. Molting hens do not do the submissive squat–only gals who are ready and willing for mating and laying do this.
  3. The first spring eggs tend to look a little different than they did last year. Those first couple eggs by each hen are generally a little larger–maybe extra round or more elongated. It takes a few trips to the nest box before they get back into their regular groove.
  4. Squabbling picks up again too! During the winter, the gals don’t seem to care as much who is in charge or what the pecking order might be. Come mid-January, however, they start to squabble again–as if jostling to get everyone back in line. We have found that the books don’t explain that the pecking order can change periodically–especially in a smallish backyard flock where one might be adding a few chicks every year or so. We like trying to figure out who is in charge and have watched as some of the lower hens work their way up over time to be the queens of the mound. We’ve also learned that the strongest rivalries come from those gals at the bottom of the pecking order.  It is normally those on the lowest rungs that have the most to gain or lose when newbies make a play for more power.

DSCN8494

So, as things pick up around here, we’re happy to be putting a few eggs in the egg basket again, and enjoying the rustles of noise and activities from the hen yard!

Zone 8 Update

DSCN8924

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…

 

DSCN8934

The leaves on the grape vines are unfurling.

 

 

DSCN8930

The strawberry plants are starting to blossom.

 

DSCN8929

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!

Teenagers and a Taste of Independence

DSCN8926

Speckles (at the back), a Rhode Island Red is still looking a little prickly about the neck. Blue Andy, the Blue Andalusian we hatched in the incubator is a combination of blues and greys. We’re pretty sure both of these chicks are pullets (females).

 

Our chicks are six weeks old! Hard to believe, I know, but they grow up quickly. If they were being raised by a mother hen, she would normally stop mothering them sometime between 5-8 weeks. We try to follow what a mama hen would do and our chicks are now living full time outside and they love it! We still have to encourage them up to roost at dusk, but we’ve had to do this in one way or another with every batch of chicks we’ve raised. It seems to take them all a couple weeks to get the hang of it–with no mama hen to show them the ropes!

DSCN8927

A good view of both Sprocket (an Easter Egger/Ameraucana) and Buffy (a New Hampshire Red.) Buffy was all yellow as a chick and we were skeptical she’d be this light buff red color, but she is!

The chicks are almost fully feathered in the colors/plumage of their adult selves–although there are still some wild pinfeathers here and there. They are developing combs and waddles and looking and acting more and more like chickens. They spend the day scratching and foraging, eating, and roosting. They love treats like greens and weeds (dandelions are a favorite) and they are in their grow pen right in the middle of the chicken run so they are surrounded by the big girls.

DSCN8928

We are pretty convinced that Sprocket is a cockerel. He is the biggest of the five and his tail feathers are starting to come in pointy. This is the second Ameraucana chick we’ve raised and the second to be a roo. When/if he starts crowing, we’ll have to make other plans. Sprocket is a beauty, though!

Sassy & Saucy

DSCN8737

 

What can we say? It’s Spring…and things and critters start to get a little sassy around here. Squirrels are leaping from tree branches, bees are buzzing the opening blossoms, and our own critters are feeling their oats as well.  As we are spending more and more time outside in the yard and garden, we’ve been capturing some of those saucy behaviors!

The picture above finds our cat, Bad Toby, taking a little siesta in the hens’ nest box.  Teri had opened up the door on a sunny afternoon–after all the girls had finished laying for the day, to air things out and add some fresh nesting material.  Toby found it to be an irresistible invitation. He preferred the same nest box the girls have been favoring too!

 

DSCN8745

 

As Teri likes to say, “there’s one in every crowd” when it comes to raising chicks–there is generally one chick who has the sticky bottom in the first few days and there is always one chick who starts the early perching and flying. In this batch, it is Blue Andy who finds her way to the highest spot in every location.

DSCN8749

 

Not to be outdone, little Buffy, the New Hampshire Red, practiced climbing up the ramp and jumping off–with a mighty (for her) squawk!

DSCN8748

Blue Andy’s feet are almost too big for balancing on the water fount–we wonder where she’ll fly up to perch next?