Sunday, March 25, 2012

Growing Girls...Gettin' flashy!

I had a set of photos to upload from about 4 days ago, but I took some more today and realized that the last bunch are already very outdated.  Amazing how quickly the gals change.  They are sporting some seriously awesome plumage now, though it's patchy, and their original fluff continues to fly!

What would YOU caption this?

The girls go in a cardboard box while we clean out their brooder.  Looks like we're going to need a bigger box soon!

After the clean-out it was time for a photo shoot!

Like my new feathers?

Jon's hands make a good perch!

"I think I'll have a seat."
See?  Big girl wings!

After Farrah Fawcett finished her shoot, we grabbed...Elizabeth?  Libby?  Betty? Lib? Lizzy?  Liz? (Possibly all of the above?  We have six of 'em after all.)

That's right.  Work with the camera.

Now over your shoulder.  That's it.

Show us "relaxed."

Now give us a little wing.
The girls were remarkably calm during their photo shoot.  Outside the brooder, they seemed to find us (our hands anyway) the most comforting thing to be near.

Anyway, aren't these just amazing developments?  Pretty girls!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"I've seen her dehydrate, sir; it's pretty gross"

Who knew that raising chickens would be such an opportunity to work on my handy-man skills.  Our first chicken project was the brooder and last weekend I undertook the project of building a new watering system for the ladies.  Why a watering system you ask?  Well, let me tell you.  While these girls are adorable, their housekeeping skills are abysmal.  They get p*#p and wood chips everywhere... including their food and water.  We have attempted to alleviate this problem by raising up the feeder and water as they grow, but the water especially was always filthy and in need of changing.  In  addition to that, they are eating and drinking a lot more now than they did initially so it was time for something with a higher capacity that would keep the water cleaner.  Enter chicken nipples (I'm not kidding. Search for it on amazon.  That's really what they are called).  Chicken nipples allow you to build a watering system similar to what you might use for a rabbit or a guinea pig.  Basically, the chickens peck at a metal piece that then releases a drop or two of water which the bird drinks.  They just keep pecking until they've had their fill.  The nipples come in two different types.  The first type has threads, so you simply drill a hole in the bottom of a bucket, screw in the nipple(s), hang your bucket where the chickens can reach it and you are done.  I opted for a slightly more complicated system.  With the nipples that I ordered you drill your holes in a length of 3/4" PVC pipe, then attach that length of pipe to a hose which eventually connects to a reservoir of some kind (5 gallon bucket).  Our finished system looks like this (the hot water heater is not part of the system):             
Finished watering system: The 5 gallon bucket feeds a 3' section of PVC containing 5 drinking stations
 I opted for the PVC pipe system because I wanted the reservoir to be located outside of the chicken enclosure.  For now, we are using it in the brooder, but once the chicken tractor is complete and the girls have moved outside, they'll be taking this watering system along with them.  I installed a 2'x2' section of pegboard along one wall of the brooder to allow for easy height adjustment as the chicks grow.  This worked like a charm.  I would love to say this was an original idea, but I totally borrowed it from somewhere on the internet.  

The pipe is zip-tied to a standard peg board hook.
Building the unit really wasn't all that difficult.  The hardest part of the whole process was chasing down all of the parts and pieces.   The nipples were ordered online, the rest ended up coming from Lowes.  I started out at Home Depot and quickly found myself lost in the plumbing section where I realized in short order that I was going to need some serious help from someone who knows what they are talking about in the plumbing world.  Unfortunately, when I began describing what I was trying to do the plumbing department associate got pretty bent out of shape.  I'm not sure why, he must have had a bad experience with others looking to do something similar or he was just having a bad day, but it made me uncomfortable enough to abort my mission and head off to the next destination on my Saturday morning errands list.  Next I tried Tractor Supply, but I didn't fare any better there.  Nobody freaked out on me, but I couldn't find what I needed.  Finally, I found myself at Lowes and the nicest older gentleman helped me work through a couple of different options until we finally settled on the design for the final product.  I have to say he did a great job helping me out because everything went together really nicely.  The only snag I hit was that the fittings leaked the first time I put them in.  The instructions say you don't have to silicon them in, but until I did I had leaks galore.  Everything is working great now though.

At first the girls were too busy eating to stop for a drink so we removed the food to see if that would help.  Within a half an hour they were all drinking away.  (we did give their food back)

First one tried it.

Then another...

And soon they all wanted to try.  In true chicken fashion they always all want to use the same one.

Now they are pros
All in all this was a great project.  They've been drinking from it for a couple of days now and it appears everyone is happy, healthy and hydrated.  It's really nice to not worry about the cleanliness of their water anymore and it's just plain fun to watch the girls figure out how to use it.  I have not added up all of the parts and pieces, but I think we're in the $30-$40 range for the whole system including things that others might already have on hand like PVC cement and silicon.  I'd highly recommend building one of these to anyone who happens to be on their own chicken adventure.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Quick Update

1.  Post coming soon about the new watering system!
2.  Post coming soon about MORE changes to our growing girls!  They are looking pretty goofy these days.
3.  We are still stumped on the name situation.  We've more or less settled on calling the yellow ones Farrah Fawcett (except for ones who get specific names as situations arise--like Annie.)  The Rocks (the black chickies) are still nameless...

We've considered Belle, Bella, Gwendolyn, Roxie, Alice, Jane, Diana, and who knows what else.  Nothing seems to be quite right.  Suggestions welcome.

More posts soon!  We promise!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Why, hello.

The girls are growing like crazy!  They are getting taller, more shapely, and their wings are developing rapidly.  We can see noticeable changes every day!

They still huddle together a lot, especially around sleep time, but they also run and play more and more.  They like to flex their new wings, so there is a lot more stretching and flapping and hopping and wee bits of flight.  Oh, and there is a new jungle gym.

Jon and Abby collected some sticks to give the girls perches and play things.

The jungle gym is a popular hang-out.

So is the feeder.
I love this photo of the girls at the feeder.  It really shows the stages of wing development we've seen so far.  It started at the tips, and then we noticed a little row of tiny feathers at the tops of their wings.  You can see that they are all at various stages of development, even though they are the same age.  We call the one on the left "Little Wing" (for obvious reasons) and the one on the right "Long Wing" (we are not a fancy people).  Long Wing is the only chick whose wings actually reach all the way back to her rapidly developing tail feathers.  Little Wing, on the other hand, seems to be developing much more slowly than everyone else, though she is just as fun and feisty as her sisters.

I think they look like mythical creatures at this stage.  Think pegasus or gryphon.  The wings seem incongruous on to their fuzzy, fluffy bodies.  And yet they also seem rather majestic.

I know people say that chickens aren't very smart, and they probably wouldn't do very well studying Chaucer or Calculus, but they are definitely curious, active, and interested in each other and the world around them!
Look at those curious eyes!

One of the girls has taken a liking to Jon.  He calls her Annie because her head is more red-ish colored than any of the other gals.  After Jon held her for a few minutes, he bent down so she could hop off of his hand, and instead she stayed for a while.

Then she let him pat her while she was standing in the brooder!  So sweet!

That's the latest.  Time to go help with a brooder clean out!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Look, Ma! New Wings!

Little chicks grow and change fast.  We got them last Wednesday, March 7.  Here are some pictures taken  just two days later...

Wing tips have the first bits of fluff to get replaced by real feathers.

The black chicks are growing just as much, but the changes are harder to see.

We continue to handle the chicks--as we learned we should--so they grow to be more relaxed around us.

I don't know why, but watching chicks drink is about the cutest thing ever.

You think these wings are looking snazzy now?  Just wait!

We actually have some new photos from tonight (day 6), but those will have to wait until tomorrow's post.

Stay tuned for more of these rapidly changing gals!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Little Chickie Chatter

Our girls make the sweetest sounds!  When everything is very quiet upstairs, we can hear them faintly as they chirp away in the basement.  When we visit them, they sound like this:

Little Chickie Chatter

There is one little chick that we don't know by sight (except that she's one of the black ones), but we sure know when we've scooped her up!  She has a very loud Peep! Peep! Peep!  We call her Noisy.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Girl Has Got Needs…

We've been taking care of our girls for a couple of days now.  At this stage of the game, their needs are pretty simple.  The first and most important thing we have focused on is keeping them warm.  We’ve got a 240watt red heat-lamp focused on the corner of their brooder 24x7.  The chicks need the light to provide an area for them that is between 90-100 degrees so they can stay warm.  Our brooder box is large, so they’ve got the one corner where they can go to sleep or warm up if needed, and a pretty good sized area to run around in.  It’s fun to watch them run around a bit, get a snack or a drink, then head back under the light for a while.  At first we had set up our box with the lamp hanging down from the ceiling above the box, but apparently that was too high.  They were peep-peeping constantly.  Fearing that they were cold, I moved the light down and clamped it to the side of the brooder, under the lid.  They seemed to like this much more and quieted down almost immediately.

Other than keeping them warm, we make sure they’ve got all of the food they want and fresh water at all times.  We end up changing the water 2-3 times a day as they get all manner of things in their little fountain.  We decided to use a medicated chick starter food.  It’s a little more expensive, but as these are our first chicks and we’re not experienced at raising chickens we think it’s worth the peace of mind.  We’ve also been adding electrolyte packets to their water.  I’m not sure this is really necessary, but they talked us into it at the store and we might as well use it up at this point.

OK, I’ve covered, warm, fed and watered so the last thing we’ve focused on is clean and dry.  You might wonder how some little baby chicks might get themselves dirty or wet.  Well, dirty is a problem that, how should I put it, is internally generated.  It’s important to make sure that everything that goes in the chicken can also get back out of the chicken.  In this regard things can get “clogged” at the exit.  If this happens it takes a little manual intervention on my part to fix it.  It’s not a process they (or I) love, but I’m sure that they know deep down inside they are better off for it.  In the end I think it’s really bringing us closer together.  We have not had problems with wet, but since they seem to think that their water fount is also a pool at times, we’ve got to watch out for it.  From everything I have read moisture is the enemy when it comes to chicks.  We’ve grown quite fond of them already and we don’t want anything to happen to them.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Girls, Girls, Girls

The girls came home today.  Jon did his homework and found that if we went to the Scarborough Tractor Supply we could get chickens called Barred Plymouth Rocks.  In Brunswick, we could get Sex Links.  (I kid you not.  That's what they are called.  These chickies are bred so that you can tell by their color what sex they are.  We were looking for all girls, so this was a helpful trait).  So I scooped up Abby early from school, we freed Jon from work, and headed to Scarborough, while Dale and Diane zipped up to Brunswick.  That way we could get some of each.

You get to bring your chickies home in a box strangely akin to a box of munchkins.  

The Sex Links (sounds like a band)
The Barred Rocks in a box
Jon introduced them to their new home.

Here is your water...

...and here is your food.
Welcome Committee
Chickie Hug.  The gals are getting along nicely so far.

One of the funniest things is watching them fall asleep.  They will doze off, and then another will come along and bump them or step on them or kick wood shavings on them, and the sleeper will jump up and bee-line for the food or water.

Sleeping Chickies 

We kept watching and waiting to see if all twelve of the girls would snooze at once.  It didn't seem likely, but then it happened...for about seven seconds.

I'm not sure we need TV anymore.  These gals are mesmerizing.  

We are still deciding on what to call them.  Abby wants to call the yellow ones Farrah Fawcett, just like her Uncle Frank wanted to do when he got to name a chick in kindergarden.  It's a possibility.  We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Name Game

We've been kicking around ideas for naming our chickens.  Some people just call them...chickens.  Some name each individually.  We've heard of others who give the whole flock of gals a single name.

We kind of like that last idea...especially as our plan is to start with 10, and it's unclear how "different" they will look from each other.

Whatever the case, we have a few ideas floating around.  These include:

Gladys (and the Peeps)
Florence  (think Henderson)
Danica (after that hot chick who did more than just cross the road)
Bella (wait...she was a Swan not a chicken)
Roxie (if we end up getting Barred Rocks)
Dixie (get it?)

Anybody have any other ideas?  Or favorites among these?  We have a cat named Henrietta, so that won't work for the chickies....

By the way...we may have the gals as soon as tomorrow (Wednesday).  We'll keep you posted.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Readying the Brooder

We have begun turning the plywood box into a home for our little chicks (who will not be arriving this weekend after all, but we are hopeful for mid-week).

We've added wood shavings, a feeder and a water trough, a heat lamp (the one in the photo is not actually the shade we will be using.  That one is too small.  The new one is on the way), and decorations, created by Abby.  Those are what make it a home

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Chick Lit

We want to be as smart as possible about this chicken business, so we've been researching online, asking around, and now I've done what I always do: I bought a book.
Great book by Jenna Woginrich

This book chronicles the experience of a family who decided to raise a few chicks of their own, in much the same way that we hope to.  It's filled with practical advice, which Woginrich provides with a lovely voice and a delightful sense of humor.  And the photographs are fabulous, too.

Jon and Abby have already begun studying up, and last night while I made dinner, they read excerpts to me.  This just got us more excited for our own chicks.  We hope to get them on Saturday.  Can't wait!

The Beginning

Well, here we are at the start of a new adventure.

Jon, Abby, and I are about to begin raising chickens.  Nothing beats farm fresh eggs, and we've got the space to raise our own with the help of a neighboring farm.  So here we go.

First things first, Jon and I designed a brooding pen because we want to raise our chickens from baby chicks.  We think this will be a good experience for Abby and it will allow us to experience the whole process.

These are a bit scribbly, but they did the trick for our trip to Home Depot to buy supplies.
The brooder is pretty simple.  It's a 4'x4' box made of plywood and chicken wire, with a few 1"x3" posts and supports.  We did a little research and considered other options, like plastic buckets, rabbit cages, or even cardboard boxes, but a sturdy, home-built cage seemed the best considering we'll be keeping the chicks in the basement for the first month or so, and we want them to be safe from the cats!

Dale helped Jon with the construction, and in just a single afternoon/evening, the brooder was complete!
The finished brooder--or chickie condo