Tag Archives: chickens

Happy Meals

Grayneck with sister hens in garden summer 2016In Memoriam: In honour of our Phoenix hen Grayneck. On Dec. 23, 2016, Grayneck died of natural causes, aged 4 1/2 years. She is survived by her four sisters.

The girls are the first hens I have had since the ones I write about here. This was first posted on my St. Thomas Dog Blog on June 13, 2010.

Hens and Roosters

I used to keep chickens. Mainly bantams who produce lovely little eggs. They also are very broody, meaning they will easily sit on eggs in order to hatch them. When you have chicks, it’s 50/50 whether Favourite of all roosters Baby Rooster D Stewart photosyou get hens or roosters. Any chicken coop can only handle so many roosters, I found. They get along with each other if they’ve been raised together, so fighting isn’t the problem. Hens and roosters both sort out their place in their pecking order.

Aside from fertilizing eggs and guarding the hens, the roosters don’t do anything productive and they eat just as much as do the hens who lay eggs for their keep. Roosters crow at all hours of the day and most of the night, and they don’t leave the hens alone. They all want to be the “egg-daddy” it seems. So every so often, some roosters have to go.*

One way they can be useful is in the stewpot. I never did the killing. I was the hanging judge. I decided who was going to die.  My then-partner did the actual dispatching, while I went in the house and washed dishes and cried. My tears didn’t make the chosen rooster any happier about his fate but, up to that moment his life had been very good. They had a nice spacious coop, an outdoor run and often they had days out loose in the yard, eating berries and pecking for bugs.

“Ugly Duckling” Chicks

Bantam/Leghorn cross with chicks photo Dorothy AngerWe also raised turkeys, putting fertilized eggs under broody bantams. The hens looked after their “ugly duckling” chicks as well as if they’d been regular bantam chicks. And the great big chicks followed their mothers and slept under their mothers’ wings even when they no longer really fit.

With the turkeys, in the fall we’d feed them lots of berries and nice vegetable scraps. The birds loved them, and it actually made the meat taste sweeter when we ate them at Thanksgiving or Christmas. So we all got a treat.

I think it’s important that the animals I eat have had good lives. I look after my pets’ health and make sure they have fun and exercise and good food because I know it’s important to their well-being. So why should it be any different for farm animals that lay down their lives in order to provide me with a meal? And, beyond the ethical issues of humane treatment of living creatures, you know there are no chemicals, hormone additives or dubious food going into naturally-raised animals. Also the end product simply tastes better.

One of my egg customers, when I had my chickens, paid me double my asking price. He said my little, fresh bantam eggs were so flavourful that he wanted to give me what he’d pay for large supermarket eggs.

Elgin County Farms

We’re lucky in Elgin County to still have a lot of small farms that grow vegetables and rear animals in the traditional way. And, as interest in organic and local foods increases, the number of those farms is also growing.

At the St. Thomas Library, I picked up two pamphlets. One is “Fresh from the Farms in Elgin County”, published by the Elgin Business Resource Centre, and the other is “Local Organic! Farms” by London Area Organic Growers. Both pamphlets list producers and sellers of vegetables and berries, meat, wine and honey in Elgin and London areas. They have the addresses, phone numbers, seasonal hours and what they sell as well as maps showing where each is located. The London one also includes area restaurants that use organic foods. When I started trying to find local sources for good (in all senses of the word) meats, I made up my own list of “happy” animal farms and organic vegetable growers. But these brochures have a lot of places I didn’t know about. Good resources to have!

me with Baby Rooster D Stewart photos* My husband said, after reading this description of roosters, that I’d just summed up at least half  of the North American male culture.

Babyrooster and Babyhen, pictured here, were my first chicks and my pets. Despite his very small size, Babyrooster was vigilant in looking after his hens. After a good long life, he died defending the hens against an attack by dogs.

$40 Beets

Several years ago, my husband grew beets and decided to pickle and can them.  He had jar-lids-photo-Dorothy-Stewartwatched me bottle relish and tomatoes and thought ‘I can do that.’  So he set to it.  He made one canner full, eight pint jars.  Then he printed labels for the jars:  $40 Beets.  He said he’d calculated that, at shop labour rates, that is what each jar cost him in time spent.  Thus ended his canning career.

Garden melons-with-cat-photo-D-StewartBut this year he moved on, with a new garden, to freezing.  We even bought a new freezer to hold the abundance of produce we have (insert slightly ironic smiley-face here).  Bok choy and zucchini have done splendidly.  There are melons of all types growing larger each day.  Four kinds of beans and three kinds of peas, all thriving and delicious.  And corn – truly the most wonderful tasting corn ever.

The only person I’ve ever known who grew corn in a small garden was my grandfather.  Garden corn-photo-Dorothy-StewartBut I was too little to remember the taste of it, if I ever ate any.  It takes a lot of room, considering you get only two ears per stalk.  I had thought it was a bit odd to grow it, maybe even that we were revisiting the $40 beets experiment.  In season, it’s easy enough to buy corn fresh from farmers’ markets.  But it doesn’t taste as good as ours.  I learned, taking those ears straight from the stalk to the cooking pot, that they justify any amount of space taken up.

No matter how delicious it is, a person can only eat so much corn.  So he is freezing it, following Corn-blanching-photo-D-Stewartsuggestions found online.  After preparing several cobs for blanching, he read that the best way to freeze corn straight out of the field is in the husk.  If it was picked longer before than that, like that you get from a store, it should be husked and blanched before freezing.  We will try both ways.*

We’ve had little luck with the pepper plants, tomatoes and spinach.  Too much rain this spring caused a delay in planting the garden.  Garden plowing-photo-Dorothy-StewartLettuce is only now starting to look leafy.  They may be vegetables not suited to the Maritimes or our soil is not right for them.

The garden was plowed then rototilled in what had been field, so the soil was clods of dense earth.  Topsoil had to be added.  With the rain, it was a very mucky mess for a long time.  But then the seedlings (started from seed in the house under grow lights) gained strength in Garden beans-peas-Dorothy-Stewarttheir little stalks.  Along with the weeds, they flourished.

Now we are reaping the harvest.  The chickens love the corn and cobs.  Zucchini and beans get a ‘meh’ from them.  I’m hoping that when – if – the lettuce comes in that they will like it.

Because, still, the biggest thrill for them is the mixed salad greens that chickens-photo-Dorothy-Stewartcome in plastic containers from the supermarket.  Within seconds, they completely devour them and look expectantly for more.  I’m sure there is an object lesson for us somewhere in that.

* Neither way worked.  This year we grew corn again, but less, and cut the kernels off the cob after a couple minutes of blanching.  They taste just fine.  There is a round tool you can use or just use a large, sharp knife – carefully.  It tastes much better.  The frozen corn on the cob went to the chickens.


Hens movin’ on up

Hens movin’ again.  That’s what happens when you’ve got wheels on your coop, you get itchy claws.

hens movin and coop pulled into garageThere has been some awfully cold days and nights the past couple weeks.  The girls are hardy, but I’ve worried about them at night despite the insulation in their coop.  They still like to go out in their run during the day.  But the wind whips around our windblocks.  And the ground gets sodden.

One freezing night when Sadie, the outdoor-by-choice cat, came in out of the gale and sleet, I said to her “I wish the chickens could be in with us too.”  Then I thought hmm, there’s a great big garage right beside them, wonder if they’d like to be inside it.  Nah, I’d get laughed out of town if I suggested putting them, coop and all, in the garage.

positioning coop in garageA day or two later, my brother said, “It’s probably too crazy, but I was thinking…”  Yes indeed, he too had thought about moving the chickens indoors for the winter.

So last weekend, the girls were packed up inside the coop, the lawn tractor hooked on to it, and the whole works moved into the garage.  Boards were put down under the run to protect the concrete floor and give the girls a less cold ‘ground’, a bale of straw spread out for them to peck in.

MINI parked by coopAfter they got in position, the MINI was put in beside them.  There was one night of snow last week, not a lot but enough to let you know it was on its way.  So time for MINI to go to sleep for the winter, for the very first time right beside some chickens for company.

Checking on them after their first night inside, I see an empty run.  Where are they?  Had they got out and were roosting in the hens inside cooprafters?  Had the Chicken Rapture happened?  No, inside the coop, looking at me like ‘oh thank goodness, you’re still here.  We’re scared!’  All crowded together, they even let me pet them as I gave them potato peelings.  One peel flicked out onto the run ramp, and one was brave enough to go after it.  The others looked at her, then me, then screwed up their courage and went out too.

garage at night photo Dorothy StewartSoon they were scratching in the straw and kicking it in the air, pecking and clucking and cooing.  Happy girls again.  Of course the weather has become nice again so neither chickens nor car need the protection of a garage, but in mid-November it can change any time.

The Cluck Sisters

The girls are moved in! Sunday evening they were put in their new hens in cage in truck bedcoop. They’d waited in the back of a truck and, by that time, were clucking and pretty much pointing with their little beaks at their little chicken wrists as if to say “don’t you know it’s bedtime?” It didn’t take long, after they’d explored and scratched and ate their welcome wagon treats. They flew up to their perch and bedded down.

cat and dog watch chickens in runThe dogs are fascinated. First thing they do when they go out is check their chickens. I doubt it’s concern for their welfare so they haven’t met without mesh between them. Cats too look at them like, wow, big sparrows!

Tire off wheel on chicken coopThe last remaining big job is replacing the wheels and axle. The small wheels just couldn’t take the weight. So a bigger set will go on. Then we should be able to haul that coop just about anywhere. (See Have Chicken – Will Travel for coop construction.)

Fine-tuning the coop interior

trough style feeder and plastic chick watererWe’ve been fine-tuning the interior since they moved in, putting in a small plastic chick waterer and trough style metal feeder raised on 2x4s and making nest boxes. We’d put a ladder in so they could climb up to their shelf. But they quickly showed they didn’t need it by flying up. So it’s gone. Less is more is the best design philosophy for a henhouse.

They need a small enough space to keep warm in the Coop being pulled with lawn tractorwinter but enough let them freely and easily move around when they are cooped up. Between 2 to 4 square feet coop space and up to 10 square feet run space per bird (depending on whether bantam or full size), according to Backyard Chickens. So, with a 4 x 4 x 8 foot coop and 8 foot long run, their space is what real estate agents call “cozy”, but it’s ok. They’ll get more outdoor space next year, in Phase II of the development.

inside coop with wall insulation and panelboardBut in winter, they’re not likely to be outside much. So you want to balance their need for movement with the amount of space that they can keep warm. We insulated with Styrofoam sheets. You can use fiberglass batts too but make sure they can’t peck at it.

Panelboard is nailed over the insulation. There is no vapour barrier, despite the advice of one chicken man. Without an inside heat source, if moisture builds up because the building materials cannot breathe, that may cause greater problems than passage of air.

High, dry and warm

hens on coop perch and shelfTheir waterer has no heater. My advisor said the coop should be warm in winter so the chickens don’t have to expend all their energy generating heat. So we hope that the insulation will hold in the body heat they generate in their small space.

You want to keep them from sitting in their food dish and want to keep dirt and faeces out of their food and water. Also it’s easier for them to digest food and water when their dishes are at neck height. They put their heads up in order to swallow properly so raised containers make that easier to do.

hens settled into run“High, dry and warm” is the key to healthy chickens, according to a lifelong chicken farmer. His words were passed on to me by the people at J & P Farm Services. They and the people at Shur-Gain Feeds and the Co-op in Sussex have been wonderful, helping to outfit the girls in style.

Have Chicken – Will Travel

Some hens need a home, so the first construction project at the chicken coop plan by Allan Anger
house?   A chicken coop.  It’s just big enough for five or six chickens and their furnishings and for us to go in to tend to them.  They need one or two roosts to sleep on, nest boxes to lay their eggs in and a feeder and waterer.  Bins to store their food, and that’s pretty much it.

And it’s mobile.  A problem with an outdoor pen attached to your coop is that the chickens peck the grass right down and soon they’re base with coop frame on topscratching and pecking in just dirt.  They like dirt.  There’s still stuff to peck at and they like having dust baths.  But when rain turns it to mud, they end up a mess.  That’s if they’ll go out in it at all, they’re not fond of mud.

So, with wheels and a tongue for towing, this coop and run can be moved around to different patches of grass.  I’ve never had one like that before, never even thought about a mobile chicken coop if truth be told.

Chickens with wheels

Googling chicken coop design and my brother’s fertile mind produced our one-of-a-kind chicken RV.  He salvaged wood and a rod for an axle from behind the garage.  He had wheels that our father had given wheels at end of coophim, saying “you don’t know when you might need a set of wheels.”  True enough, years later, they turned out to be perfect for a hen house.  Then he and a carpenter friend began construction.  It’s a well-built hen house.

The chickens won’t be limited to just this attached 8-foot run.  The pen can open into a larger fenced area or just the great outdoors.  But this small run, enclosed with sturdy hardware cloth, provides both indoor and outdoor space where you can be sure they’re safe.  And, in case you have an emergency that requires traveling with your chickens, well, with this you can do it with ease.

coop with plywood sidingThe hens plan to move in next week.  Their new home will be ready for them by them.  I looked at coop equipment today.  Some feeder designs and ready-made nest boxes that I hadn’t seen before.  I haven’t bought anything yet.  I need to talk to chicken people about what works best and see the final interior layout to see what best fits.

Although I hadn’t planned to get chickens so soon, these are Phoenix hens. And, well, I did say I liked them. It’s exciting.  I’m looking forward to the girls seeing their new quarters.

Phoenix Eggs

phoenix hens eggs in cartonThese beautiful little eggs are from my great nephew’s Phoenix hens.  They’re maybe half the size of a large supermarket egg.  But they’re twice as flavourful.  I think that has more to do with the fact that the hens live a normal chicken life instead of being in a small cage in a battery chicken farm.  These hens live in an outdoor coop with a run so they can move and peck and do normal chicken things.

boy holding Phoenix henI’ve seen hens like this at chicken shows but never in a backyard coop.  That’s because they are considered show birds not laying birds.  I asked why they didn’t have a rooster.  The answer was that the roosters have enormously long tails and they’d have to build an extension to the coop to accommodate him.  And yes, what I read online is that you do need extra tall perches for the roosters.  It’s from Phoenix rooster and henthe length of the tail feathers that the breed was given its name.  The roosters look like the Phoenix bird of myth.  The hens, at least those with this plumage, to me look like they’re wearing necklaces.  That’s what I’ve always called them, the necklace hens.

Googling them, I read they’re not prolific layers.  But these five hens usually each give an egg almost every day.  What more could you ask for?  And broken eggs in dishthey’re perfect eggs:  good hard shells, deep yellow yolk and lovely taste.

I scrambled three eggs, cooking them until they had just set, then put them aside on a small plate.

eggs, broccoli and riceI stirfried some broccoli, then added leftover cooked rice to heat through. Lastly I put in the cooked eggs and lightly mixed it all together until heated.  The eggs turned leftovers into a whole new, and delicious, meal.

egg fried riceWhen I get a chicken coop built, some Phoenix hens will be living in it.  I read that they aren’t noted as particularly friendly, but the ones I met were.  Came right up to me and let me scratch their heads and pet their feathers.  No running away or pecking at me, just inquisitive and friendly little birds.  Little birds who lay lovely eggs!