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Jun 28

Will The Roosters Please Step Forward? (Critters & More)

Leo our resident Fatty
Welp, we have had a few busy weeks and it looks like I need to play catch up.  I think I will break it down into three separate blogs to make it a little more reader friendly.  I’ll call this one: Critters & More.
Part 1: Critters & More
Well, we had our first rooster crow on Father’s day.  I like to tell Nate that the rooster was wishing him a  Happy Father’s Day. I am guessing we have 7 hens and 6 roosters, but this is based off of comb & waddle formation. Not the best way to determine sex, but I am not going to look at their tushies anytime soon. So this is the method we have.  They are growing quickly, so hopefully this guessing game will be over and we can start guessing how many eggs we will collect instead.
As mentioned, they are getting very big and fat. We decided we should expand their coop area a bit so they can run and fly around.  Our goal is to free range during the day and coop at night.  This will protect them from the beasties that like to feed at night on juicy plump chickens and such.  We have been pretty lucky with the chickens as far as training them to roost in the coop at night.  I was reading up on how to train them and all prepared with my special treats to lure them into the coop the first night we let them out.  Well, Nate informed me that they already went to the second floor of their coop and put themselves to bed once the sun went down.  Woo – well that was easy! No need to play the tricky “chicken chasing” game.
I think a lot of our success in raising the chickens so far is that we have taken the time to create a consistent feeding/caring schedule and of course Nate’s awesome chicken tractor.  They love it and feel safe there. They love spending the day lounging in the 1st floor screened-in level and scratching for bugs outside. At night they always find their favorite corner on the second floor and zonk out for the night, knowing they are safe and sound. Of course we have to do a little work too.  Every morning Agatha starts to crow (oops Agatha may be a he after all) and requests I get outside and do my job.  I let them out into the chicken run and give them fresh food, dirt, and water.  They like to follow me around and peck at my rings if I let them.  Of course they come running full speed if they see corn in my hand. Apparently this is their favorite treat and it causes quite a chicken free for all when we throw them a cob.  Then about once a week I scrunch up my nose and it is time to clean the coop. Fortunately, I have years experience shoveling poop thanks to Skeeter and Darling, the horses I had growing up.  Chicken poo is a bit easier than horse manure, so I can’t complain too much.  Plus we are happy that the chickens seem to do well with hay as bedding. We have plenty for free!  We are collecting the poo and adding it to our compost pile for next year’s garden.  Oh and trust me…the chicken’s have been doing their best to provide us with plenty of fertilizer.
I know Nate and I have really enjoyed watching our little chickens grow and interact.  So much so, that somehow we ended up with 16 new feathered friends to add to our 13 chicken crew. Wait…did you read that right…we now have 29 birds?!?!
Turkeys can fly at one week old!
Yup, we decided we should add a few Guinea Hens to our crew to help with the ticks (ugh ticks).  We referred to our favorite resource, Craigslist, and found our new guineas.  What we didn’t know was we were about to encounter a cute Vietnamese couple, a retired doctor and his wife, with an interesting hobby.  In order to keep busy in retirement, the husband decided to build this amazing house landscaped with citrus trees and exotic plants.  As we looked towards the back of the property, we noticed that the plants were not the only exotic features to the property.  They had an aviary full of exotic birds.  Our guinea trip just expanded into baby bird trip.  In the end, we ended up with 6 guineas, 2 turkeys, 2 Phoenix chickens (fancy chickens), 2 black pheasants, 2 red pheasants, and 2 Lady Amherst pheasants.  We cannot wait to see the pheasants and chickens feather because they have the coolest coloring as adults.  Anyway, one of my favorite parts of the guinea trip was when Nate asked the wife if they ate any of the birds.  She gave him a look and said, “NO!! They are just for fun!” Lol, that is my kind of lady!!!
Nate and I discussed on the way home, that we would like the birds to hatch some of the eggs in the future.  So we referred to one of Nate’s favorite sayings, “Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance” or the 7 P’s.  It was time to build a more permanent brooder than just a cardboard box. We let our new additions rest in our transfer plastic box as we built (Nate built & I helped) our wooden brooder box.  Again, we are happy we picked up all that free scrap wood we found on Craigslist because the box frame was already built for us.  We just needed to add sides, and the inside features.  With our brooder built, red light in place, we released our new birdie friends to their home.  They love it so far!  Important note: baby pheasants, turkeys and guineas can fly!!!  So make sure you put a wire cover on top of the brooder or you are going to take “chicken chasing” to a whole new level!
Besides being able to fly, I was a little more nervous about this group of birds because they ranged from 2 days old to a week old.  The turkeys are like awkward teenage dinosaurs compared to the little pheasants and have a habit of stepping on the other birds’ heads. Ack!!!  Fortunately the little guys are quick and learned that the turkeys are a bit dopey (like Truman).  It has also been a little more challenging managing the heat and red light this time because it is already so hot out.  We have to really watch the clues they give us and adjust the light accordingly.  If they are panting, raise or turn off the light. If they huddle together, turn the light on.  I have noticed that since the turkeys are much larger, the little guys seem to mimic them and treat them a little like a mother figure. It is pretty cute.
Somebody is watching me watch him.
Here is what we have learned about raising baby birds: Buy a red brooder light (red keeps them from pecking each other to death), give them two types of water for about 3 or so weeks. One water should have antibiotic in it and one should be plain water.  Give them dirt or sand…they will eat it up fast.  It helps them poop.  Without it their poor little gizzards don’t have much to work with to get the food through.  Also, give them little box shelters, sticks, and rocks to explore.  It helps them develop life skills in a safe environment. Plus it is way more fun for them.  Finally, always count your birds when you move them to the cleaning box.  Poor Nate found out the hard way on that one. We  moved the birds to their cleaning box so we could clean the brooder.  Then we pulled out the rocks, logs, and dishes to wash them (birds poop on everything).  We emptied the shavings (we use non cedar shavings in the brooder because the hay can sometimes have mold and make them sick when they are little and not fully developed) and washed the plastic barrier.  As Nate was pressure washing the log, a big dust ball popped out of a hole in the log.  He was surprised at the gunk in the log, when he noticed it started to move!!!  Poor little guinea got his little booty pressure washed because he was hiding in the hole. OUCH!!!  Nate collected him, rinsed him off in the sink, and we returned him to his friends.  Poor little guy kind of sat in shock for a bit.  He eventually dried off and is happily trying to catch flies now.
Someone is in catnip heaven!!!

So as you can see the domesticated critters are happy and flourishing here.  Edgar has taken well to his new outside kitty role…and even found the catnip in the garden!!!  The dogs are being dogs.  They happily reminded me, much to my chagrin, that country dogs like to catch and kill things.  Ugh…Simon and Truman, our resident hunters, found a baby bunny nest and let’s just say it did not end well.  I confess I was a bit devastated seeing the poor baby bunnies meet their end.  I had to readjust my view and remember that I am back in the country.  I can’t save all the animals.  Although, there are a few animals here I am not inclined to save…ticks, flies, and snakes to name a few.  Hopefully, the birds will help keep the ticks at bay.  We have fly tape that is keeping the flies in check.  I have been experimenting with a natural coffee, basil, jalapeno pepper spray to keep the bugs and caterpillars from eating the plants in the garden.  We are preparing ourselves for the invasion of the grasshoppers…that are everywhere you walk now.  Again the birds will hopefully help there too.  If only I could figure out how to get rid of those snakes!!!

Nate and I have been working away on the tractor and like to go down to the creek to cool off after a hard day’s work.  Well, turns out we are not the only ones who like to go for a dip in the cool water.  As I was floating in the creek, I looked up and saw what I thought was a turtle head and then I noticed it was a bit long.  Ack!!! SNAKE!!!!  Nate and I were on dry land in seconds.  Simon had a moment where he was face to face with the slithering beast and even Simon opted to leave the snake alone.  Fortunately, we scared the snake as much as he scared us…and this time he was a harmless water snake.  We do have to watch it…because there are some less friendly snakes around…yuck!

Inside…who me?

Don’t worry…we aren’t “afraid of no stinkin’ snakes!”  We still visit the creek everyday.  Now that it so hot outside, I take Xander down for a daily dip in the creek. It is hard being the resident old guy in dog days of summer.  I hope my favorite little German Shepherd will continue to surprise us and keep on living it up, but the heat does take a toll on his old man body.  We gave him a bit of a hair cut and make sure we hose him off throughout the day.  He has slowed down a bit, but he still enjoys his daily Simon chase around the hay fields.  So don’t count him out just yet!

Well…now that  you have had your fill of critter stories…I have to get to work on the hay equipment blog.  Yup we have a tractor, baler, and mower now.  Can’t wait to share our hay equipment adventures.  Check back in the next day or so to see my part II- Tractor Tales.  Oh and I added some pictures of our progress on the tractor and a tour of the house to our website. Enjoy! http://oursweetwaterfarm.com/OurSweetWaterFarm/My_Albums/My_Albums.html

Thanks for joining us on the farm.

Always,
Nate, Lily, and the critter crew

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