Category Archives: Critters

Things that are living on our homestead

Continued Establishment

This past weekend was packed with planting trees, planting bushes, moving our turkeys out of their brooder, a surprise birthday party for my Mother-in-Law and Mothers day.

It was a good, good weekend.

Turkeys

Let’s start with the turkeys.  We have two white broad breasted turkeys we bought from Meyers Hatchery.  We brooded them until they were feathered out (when all of their down turns to feathers).

The gobblers in their brooder

Yesterday, Chris built a three sided lean-to for their protection out of scrap left on the property by the last owner, and we moved the turkeys outside into the electro-netting.  Electro-netting is a flexible fence that can be easily electrified to keep out predators such as raccoons, fox, and coyotes.

Now, if you are a fox, raccoon or coyote, I’d appreciate you stop reading.  The details I am about to provide will lead to heartache for me and dinner for you.  So as a favor, please stop.

In our move, we seemed to have misplaced our fence energizer.

This means that during the night, the only thing that is standing between predators and  our little turkeys is a sheet of old plywood haphazardly placed in front of their three sided coop.  We now have sitting ducks, or more correctly, sitting turkeys.  Being so small makes them extra vulnerable.  ***UPDATE*** while I was writing this post, Chris created a door.  Our Turkeys are now safe.

Aside from predator fears (which are now allayed), watching them running around and experience the grass between the clawed toes was so much fun to watch.  They are now hanging out in their lean-to.

Turkeys relaxing in their coop. Fresh water, fresh greens, fresh air. Turkey-ing it up.

The coop was made of trash the previous owner left behind. No trip to the hardware store needed!

Trees/Perennials

We are still filling in our food forest landscape with trees.  We received another Plum, a Golden Delicious and another paw paw.  We planted the paw paw and the Golden Delicious in our backyard orchard, and we added the plum to the front yard orchard.  (as we’re keeping track of cost, each tree cost $18.16, but we already accounted for the paw paw, so let’s add another $36.32 (2 x $18.16) to our overall bill.

We decided to put our fruit trees in two concentrated areas.  This will allow to care for and harvest a bit easier.  We should also be able to fence off and fend of any deer that may think they want our trees or fruits as a nice snack.

Blueberries:

My in-laws gifted us with two blueberry bushes.  What a fantastic present!!  They are large and beautiful.  One was a “Blue Crop” and the other is “Patriot “.

Blueberry plant that was gifted to us is ripening. YUM!

We are planting the blueberries on the north and west side of the strawberry patch. This will allow for the strawberries to soak up all the morning sun, but be shielded from the afternoon sun.  Both strawberries and blueberries like acidic soil, so these berries are happy to be together.

Turkeys!!!!

In previous posts, I briefly mentioned the fact that I we have turkeys on our homestead this year: (Posts: First Day of Meat Chickens, I Get To…).

Why did you get Turkeys?

Two reasons: Fun and Yum.  Or Yum and Fun.  Either way, for eating and entertainment.  Those are generally the two reasons anything (other than dogs) come to live on our patch of land.

The more I can grow from my land the better.  I want to use the land, and by using it responsibly, we help make the land more healthy.

Another reason I actually got turkeys is because when I did a quick search of Craigslist, a  woman was selling some day old chicks and some turkeys.  I was in her general vicinity to pick up our meat chicks, so I stopped by, and brought home to turkey poults.  I believe they were 2 to 5 days old at the time.

What Kind of Turkeys did you get?

I don’t know.  I bought them from someone I found on Craigslist.  I really liked her facility, and I will definitely buy from her next year.  I will probably also buy my laying hens from here on out as well.

One of the turkeys walking around outside of the chicken paddy wagon.

One of the turkeys walking around outside of the chicken paddy wagon.  You can see the grass is pretty beat up.  That’s where the wagon was the day before.

I can’t remember the exact breed.  It is either a bronze or a broad breasted bronze.  The broad breasted will fill out most like the grocery store turkeys.  The bronze is a little smaller.  I’m not sure which one it is.  And quite frankly, with my limited turkey experience, I’m not sure I’ll be able to tell by turkey processing time.

How do you raise Turkeys?

I put the turkeys in the brooder right along with the chicks. Most of the literature instructs keeping turkey poults and chicks separate.  I decided to ignore that.  The reasons sited to keep them separated is due to a disease called blackhead (a parasitic disease) and the large turkeys may injure the smaller chickens.

Young Turkey Poult in the brooder

Young Turkey Poult in the brooder

I had six meat chicks and those two turkeys in my first round of brooding for the year.  I cleaned the brooder daily and the flock was small.  This generally stops any disease problems.   A lot of problems with disease is due to overcrowding of animals – no matter what the species.  Also, the smaller flock allowed all critters to have plenty of room to spread out.  I had no problem with getting the chicks up to butchering weight.

I moved the turkeys outside into the chicken paddy wagon (chicken tractor) with the meat chickens at about 3 to 4 weeks old.  The chicken paddy wagon moves daily, so the chickens and the turkeys get fresh greens.  My original plan was to move the turkeys in with the laying hens at the time the meat chickens met their last day.

This did not happen.

Turkeys don’t move quickly.  And when I was moving the chicken paddy wagon one morning, one of the turkeys got his foot stuck under one of the runners.  He either sprained or broke his foot.  I thought I would have to put him down.  But he rebounded, and he’s almost 100% healed now.

But being that he was injured, I did not want to put him in a new flock.  He would probably be bullied to death.

So at this point, the turkeys are still in the chicken paddy wagon.  While not ideal, it is not forever.

According to my reading, the space needed in a turkey tractor for happy turkeys is 12 feet by 12 feet for 24 turkeys.  This works out to about six square feet per turkey.  Their current space is 10 feet by 4 feet.  So our turkeys get 20 square feet per turkey.  So they should be pretty happy.

The chicken paddy wagon is moved daily for fresh green for our gobblers.

The chicken paddy wagon is moved daily for fresh green for our gobblers.

They look pretty happy.

They act pretty happy.

My goal is to provide a happy life for them  (and all of my critters).

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I will be moving them to an open paddock in a week and a half after I process my second batch of meat birds.

What do they eat?

They began eating chick starter.  I fed them exactly what I fed my meat birds, and I still do.  But as turkeys age, their protein requirements decrease.  In the first seven weeks of life, their protein in take should be 26% to 30% of their diet. And then from 7 to 14 weeks of age, the require only 16% to 24% protein. After that, they thrive on feed that is 14% to 16% of their diet.

Our turkeys have access to fresh grass and a new insects everyday.  They go wild when I move the tractor, and seem to prefer eating the white clover.  (Oh, how I love white clover, almost as much as I love dandelions).

White clover also known as Turkey Candy

White clover also known as Turkey Candy

Costs

So far the costs have been low.  As I’ve had the turkeys mixed with the chickens, I can’t pinpoint how much they ate versus how much the chickens are consuming.  I am certain that I could buy a chemical laden turkey in the grocery store for less than my costs to raise these guys.  But there is a peace that comes with raising your own food.  I know my turkeys are having a good life, and living the way a turkey should.  I also get a lot of entertainment raising them.

So basically, my hobby produces awesome food.  Sign me up!

Overall

Overall, I love raising the turkeys.  They are hilarious and look like little dinosaurs.  Even more than the chickens.  I love their gobbles, and they seem to have so much more personality.  It’s also  neat to have wild turkeys in the area.

Wild Turkey with her two babies

Wild Turkey with her two babies

I feel like the turkeys are meant to be on this land.  I will continue to have turkeys well into the future.  In fact, I believe I will expand my flock next year, and sell a few extra turkeys for Thanksgiving meals.

Always an adventure, just out my backdoor!

I Get To…

I woke up at 4:30 this morning.  In order to take care of all of our animals and get out the door in time for work, it’s essential.

4:30 am is early.  It can be hard to do.

When I told myself I HAVE to get up to take care of these chores, it was difficult to get out of bed.

But then I changed the conversation I have with myself.

I decided I GET to take care of my critters.  My turkeys, my egg chickens and my meat birds.

I’ve had agrarian dreams for as long as I can remember.  I primarily wanted egg laying chickens.  I thought my homesteading yearnings would be quenched by having a few chickens running around.

Not so much.  We started off with six hens.  Then we added more chickens, and now we have 17 laying hens and one rooster to watch over them.

This year, I got to add two turkeys and chickens raised for meat.

My garden is huge and we got our first plum from our plum tree.

All of this takes a lot of work.  And in order to balance this, my work life and time with my family, I have to get up at 4:30 am.  (and having an amazing husband helps!)

But the reality is that waking up at 4:30 in the morning is what living my dream looks like right now.

So it’s really wonderful that I have these chores to do.  I love them, and I love having my animals.  I love providing a good life for them and eating off of our land.

I move differently throughout the morning when I realized that I get to do these chores.  When I “have to” do those chores, I trudged.  I was bleary eyed.  But changing “have to” to “get to”, I look forward to getting out of bed and seeing my chickens and turkeys.

So getting out of bed super early is a luxury for me.  So while I may be tired, and sleeping in sounds wonderful, the payoff of homesteading is worth it for me.

I also get to share this with you.

So thank you for reading and sharing in my journey.

Meat Birds – 3 Weeks Old

Time is flying.  Our meat birds are not.

All is still going well, and our routine remains the same with them.  We empty the brooder of all of the dirty pine shavings, replace with new, fill up water and food.  Done.

Except, they have been knocking down their feeder and waterer a lot, so I have ordered a new feeder and waterer off of Amazon so that we can hang it from the ceiling.

I ordered two of these feeders:

This feeder holds 3 pounds of feed, and should last a little longer.  The fact that I can hang it up should prevent and spillage of food.  I ordered one for the brooder inside and one for the Chicken Paddy Wagon outside.

I also ordered one:

I already have one outside, and I only need one inside.  It is only 5 quarts.  This seems to be a complaint for many, but I think having a little less water is good.  That way, you clean it every time you change it.  This should prevent it from getting too yucky.

Also, I’m only raising 10 baby chicks at a time.  If I was raising more, I would want larger food and water containers.

I will let you know my impression of these purchases once I use them for a bit.

Our chicks are feathering out nicely.  Their feathers are coming in on their wings, and now on their tail.

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We also bought 10 “Miscellaneous” chicks.  We got 3 black ones, 3 light colored chicks with stripes and 3 orange-brown ones.  The orange brown chicks are about 2/3 the size of the other chicks.  I have no clue what kind of breeds they are, but they are all clearly different. The size difference is quite obvious in real life, but a little more difficult to capture in a picture.IMG_0515

Raising meat birds is so much fun.  I think this is something we will continue doing in the future.   I’m excited (kind of) about tasting these guys.

3 week old Chicks-progress

The journey continues…

Weekly Video:

 

Meat Chickens – Week Two

Our chickens are two weeks old!!!  Time is flying.

All ten chicks are still in good health.

What’s Changed?

I no longer have to do the daily Pasty Butt check.  But I do shovel out the brooder daily, and put in new pine shavings.

We have also removed the heat lamp, since they no longer need it.  We are in the beginning of Summer, so the weather is warmer.  When removing the heat source, observe the chicks to see if they start huddling together to gather heat, or if they act normally.  The types of chicks and the current weather make a huge difference as to the exact time to remove the heater.  That’s why it is so important to observe.

And finally, we have to do daily cleaning of the brooder.  This means we scoop out most of the (poopy) pine shavings and replace it with fresh pine shavings.  I put the used pine shavings around my blueberry bushes.  They love the acidity of the pine.

The chicks are quickly feathering out, and I think they will be ready to move to the chicken paddy wagon (outside) next week, or the week after.  Again, it’s all about observation.

Progress Pictures:

Here is a the progression of the birds aging:

From Left to Right: 1 Day Old, 1 week old, 2 weeks old

From Left to Right: 1 Day Old, 1 week old, 2 weeks old

Previous Meat Bird Posts:

Weekly Video:

Meat Chickens – One Week Old

Our meat birds are celebrating their one week birthday.  It has been a relatively easy week.

Notice the chicks are starting to feather out.  They start this at the tips of their wings.

Notice the chicks are starting to feather out. They start this at the tips of their wings.

The how-to’s of their first week of life is pretty easy, and not very time consuming.

What is the daily chores for week old chicks?

I check on the boys (as we ordered cockerels, all male) at least once a day, and usually twice a day.

Once a day I pick up each chick to check for Pasty Butt.  Pasty Butt is when the chick’s back end (poo hole?) is clogged with poo.  This can actually kill them.  So as soon as you find it, take a warm, wet rag, sponge or paper towel and gently clean it.

The bummer about this condition is that if your bird gets pasty butt once, they are likely to get it again.  BUT it’s super easy to take care of.

I check to make sure that they have plenty of fresh drinking water and that their food is full.

The chicks eating their feed.

The chicks eating their feed.

Then, I add in some more pine shavings to keep everything clean and smelling fresh.

Why Pine Shavings?

I like pine shaving over other bedding for the brooder because the high acid of the pine neutralizes the smell.  Also, the chicken droppings are high in nitrogen, while wood is high in carbon.  This makes the perfect combo for fertilizing your plants when it’s time to clean out the brooder.  While the  nitrogen in the manure is good for plants, it can be a little too much in the fresh poo and burn the plants.

Be Careful NOT to use:

  • Cedar Shavings – the oils from this will hurt the chicks lungs.  Avoid this throughout the chickens entire life span.
  • Newspapers – the newspapers create a slippery base.  Chicks also have a natural desire to scratch and dig.  Please let your chicken express his chicken-ness, and give him something to dig in.

So far, so good.

It’s been amazing to watch these guys grow.  They have two or three more weeks in the brooder and then we’ll be moving them out to the chicken paddy wagon.

Left: Chick One Day Old Right: Chick One Week Old

Left: Chick One Day Old
Right: Chick One Week Old

Here’s this week’s video:

Our New Adventure – Day 1, Batch 2

As a family, we want to make sure we source our meat from local, humane and sustainable resources.  Sometimes we aren’t successful, but over 95% of the time we are.  We have a great resource for chicken, but we have agrarian dreams and we wanted to raise our own.  Okay, mostly, have agrarian dreams and a very supportive husband.

Our First Batch

So our newest adventure is raising meat birds, particularly chickens.  We started our first batch five weeks ago, and we got our second batch of ten chicks last night.  We start them in our homemade brooder, where they live for three to four weeks.  You can read about this DIY brooder here.

We ordered six cockerels (male chicks) for our first batch.  I also picked up two turkey poults at that time, one male and one female, from a different local farmer.  This first batch of chicken should be ready to be processed (a nice way to say butchered) in about three weeks time.  The turkeys will take about six months and should be ready around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Six chicks and two bronze Turkeys.  Another agrarian adventure begins!

Six chicks and two bronze Turkeys. Another agrarian adventure begins!

 

I’ve read that we should raise the turkeys away from the chickens, and I’ve read it doesn’t matter.  Having the turkeys and chickens together so far seems to working out wonderfully.

Our Second Batch

We ordered 10 chicks for our second batch.  That seems like the ideal amount for the Chicken Paddy Wagon.  The Chicken Paddy Wagon is a 8 foot by 4 foot shelter that we move daily.  This is the Joel Salatin Method.  Everyday, we move this enclosure to a new section of grass.  We do this so:

We got a mixed batch of broilers.  Here they are:

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And a video describing their second day:

Types of Birds

We order “broiler” chickens from a local hatchery.  They are a mix of large bodied heritage breeds that will have a decent amount of meat in a little bit of time.

We did not choose to use the “Cornish Cross” chickens.  Those birds come to full maturity at 6 weeks. If they are not processed by about 8 weeks, they start to die from enlarged hearts, or their legs collapse beneath them from the heavy body weight.  These Cornish Crosses get so large their feathers do not cover their body.  From what I’ve read, these fraken-chickens are not interested in eating bugs or grass.  Essentially, they have lost the “chicken-ness” of being a chicken.  This seems highly unnatural to me.   And a lot of that extra nutrient which pastured poultry is known for comes from the birds eating bugs and grass.

That being said, I think I will experiment and buy a few Cornish Crosses in the future.  I have had a lot of experiments go differently than what I read.  My plants and animals have not read the same resources I have.  So I would like to see the results given our inputs.

Processing the Birds

We have processed birds here before.  We did that last fall when we found that we had 4 roosters, and we ordered all hens.  It’s not a great idea to have that many roosters.  It’s really rough on the hens, and the roosters can fight with each other.  So we had to cull 3 roosters.  (Culling is when you process chickens due to excess roosters or if they have lived past their laying prime.)

Costs

I am also keeping a running tally of the costs associated with raising meat birds.  I saw a whole organic chicken for sale at the grocery store for under $8.00.  I’m pretty sure our birds are going to cost more than that.  However, organic isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Organic is better than conventional, but it stinks compared to pastured.  These organic birds that you can buy at a store just eat organic food.  They probably still live inside of large over crowed chicken houses with little to no ventilation.  The birds are probably not eating any bugs, digging in dirt, or eating any grass or weed seeds.

We are feeding our birds 100% organic feed while they have access to the outdoors during the last half of their life.  We want our chickens to be happy and to live healthy lives.

So join me on our journey with meat birds from day one to our table.

 

Link to the water and feeder for your Brooder:

Baby Chick Feeder Bottom

Water Bottom

Bottle for Food and Water

 

Free-Range Chickens: It’s not that Great

Through experience, I came to find out having our chickens go free range is not as wonderful as I had once thought.  Our fence that holds the chickens in fell down.  It is a temporary fence, and it’s easy enough to put back up, but all 18 chickens got out from the garden area. At first it was wonderful.  I looked out from the window above my kitchen sink, and I was treated to a view of chickens doing chickeny things on the hillside.  20150104_091436

Chickens are funny creatures.  When they move, it looks like they have choreographed a comedic play just for you.  Their scratching is great for the garden while it is fallow, as I discussed in this post.  However, when they are in spots that are not meant for them, they can wreak havoc.

As Fall was rolling in, I mulched around my trees, brambles, bushes and strawberries.  I used straw in most places, and some pine needle “straw” around my blueberries and strawberries in the front of the house.  Loose mulch is chicken crack.  They love scratching in the loose mulch.  I think it’s like a chicken treasure hunt.  While I want to provide the best life for them I can, I am less than thrilled that they scattered the mulch, I apply the mulch to protect the plants and feed the plants as it breaks down.

I applied the pine needles in the front of the house.  I was a little disheartened when I walked out my door and saw this:

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They dug up my strawberries, exposed a ton of dirt and pushed all the dirt onto the driveway:

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Later, they were running out into the road.  Running into the road is not especially good for their long term well being, as moving cars and chickens do not mix.  And there was poop where poop does not belong.

Overall, I am not a fan of having my chickens free-range.  It is unsafe for them, and a headache for me.  And I also don’t believe the opposite approach is good either where they are cooped up in a small space and they can’t even spread their wings.   In my opinion, the best way to raise chickens is by using a rotational grazing pattern.

Rotational grazing is used by those who have any number of animals: pigs, cows, sheep, and yes, chickens.  The basic idea is the chickens (or insert your animal here) start off in one fenced in area.  They have lots of room to be a chicken.  They can scratch, find new tasty bugs, and make me laugh.  Once the land has been worked over by the chickens, but the land is still in good shape, you move the chickens to the next bit of paddock.  The chickens now get lots of new goodies and they aren’t depleting your land.

Meanwhile that first piece of land you had them in is now benefiting from the extra fertilizer and the bit of disturbance from the chickens.  The chickens won’t come back to that paddock until it is ready for them.  That is ideal.  BUT this is not what I’m doing now.  I have a slow paddock shift.  Where I’m letting the chickens go crazy in my garden, and they are tilling and fertilizing the soil.  When it’s time to plant in the garden, I will move the chickens into the system I described above.

 

 

The Eggs Are Back!!!

Over the Christmas baking season, I had to buy eggs.  17 hens in the coop, and I had to buy eggs.  Hmm, that didn’t feel good.  I’ve heard advice to put a light on in the coop.  It will fool the chickens to think that the days are longer and they will lay more.  I have refused to do this.  Why? I think there is a reason that chickens do not lay when the days are shorter.  I do not want to go against nature.

So between the molting and the shorter days, we were getting anywhere from no to 2 eggs a day for a total of about six eggs a week.  We ate a lot of oatmeal during this time.

I think our egg drought is OVER!  Our egg collection number have gone as such: 3, 3, 4, 6, 3.  WOOOO!!!! We’re back and we’re eating omelets!!

We have some really neat colors coming in, too.  We have blue, pink with brown spots, pink with white spots and brown.  No white ones to be mentioned yet.  20141229_103452

Another Bird of Prey

I walked to my back door and looked out the window at the sky.  I saw a typical sight, a crow attacking a large bird, presumably a turkey vulture.

First of all, crow are amazing animals.  They will defend their territory against birds of any size.  When watching the aerial show, I noticed this turkey vulture had some non-turkey vulture characteristics.  For instance, vultures wing tips are finger-like.  This means that the wing tips splay out and you can actually see distinct feathers at the tips of the wings, whereas bird of prey have a wing with a more solid looking wing.

Yes, this large bird had the wings of a bird of prey.  This bird was much larger than any hawk I’ve ever seen in my back yard.  As this bird was driven closer and closer attempting to get away from the attacks of the crow, I saw it was a …

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Bald Eagle.  Yes!! A bald eagle came into my backyard and perched upon the tree to see what could be seen.  The Eagle sat there for about 30 minutes, surveying the land, and taking a break after a recent attack.

Several times, it seems as though this Eagle was looking at my chickens for a bit of a snack.  My chickens, at that time were no more than 30 feet away from me.  My thoughts on an Eagle eating my chickens? “That would be pretty cool if I got to see an Eagle land that close to me!”

However, I don’t believe I would be as excited if an eagle ate 3 chickens in one day, as those hawks had. It still would be amazing to see an eagle that close in the wild.  Fortunately/ Unfortunately, the hawk had no interest in the meal that was below him.  He flew off, leaving myself and everyone in my house filled with excitement, gratitude and a sense of awe.