Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Little Chicken Update

It's been awhile since I've talked about our chickens, so we have some catching up to do!  So much has been going on.

First, though, I must tell you about Cali.  You see, last year we had this mice issue in our house.  It was our worst year yet for mice, and as we talked with our neighbors, we found out that everyone was having a big mice issue.  Knut and I don't consider ourselves "cat people" but we seriously considered getting one as a mouser.  The traps were not working, and the mice started bringing the poison from the part of the basement that the kids don't get to into, and building little poison nests in the kids toy bins.  I pretty much freaked out.

This winter, we never needed to get a cat, though, because Cali showed up.  She's a stray cat that came into our yard, and since she arrived we have not seen a single mouse.  This has been a no mouse year so far which is just fantastic.  So we encouraged her to stay by setting out warm water on bitterly cold days.  He/She has been around for a few months, although since she is a stray we have told the kids to not touch her.  That's fine, because she's pretty skittish around us and I doubt we could catch her if we wanted too.

Anyway, this winter has been unseasonably warm and the chickens have been allowed out of their coop much more often.  Lately, we've noticed their egg production drop.  It went down from 4-8 eggs a day to 1 a day.  Then we had 3 days of no eggs. 

Then I went to the coop one morning and there was Cali resting in one of the nesting boxes, licking her lips with egg shells all around her.

O, I yelled at her, and she ran like the wind.  The chickens did not like her around.  She didn't touch the chickens but she sure liked the eggs.  At this point our solution has been to leave Lena outside when the chickens are out, as she guards their coop like...a guard dog.  She doesn't even notice the chickens anymore, but she does not like that cat, or anything else in her yard.

I will say Lena isn't thrilled with this new arrangement, as she spends most of her day begging to come in at the front porch window.  She will growl and run off if anything enters the yard, though.

So for now it's not the season that mice flood into the house, and everything in that regard seems under control.  Except the chickens are being a bit naughty themselves.  I blame the cat.

You see, now they're laying eggs outside the coop.  I honestly think that's because the cat was all over their nesting boxes.  We're finding eggs in the garage, in the summer kitchen, and once outside under a tree.  The kids like to "hunt eggs" and are pretty good at it. 

So to retrain them, we left them in the coop for a few days where their only choice was the nesting boxes.  They in turn went canabalistic on us and started eating some of their eggs, which is very common in chickens.  However we're trying to put a stop to it.  I'm trying to make sure we're bringing them out some interesting slop to distract them.  I've read eating their eggs is what chickens often do when they're bored of being "cooped up."

So besides having a bit of an egg shortage around here (we only have one full 18 ct carton we keep up in our fridge these days.  It's starting to grow again.  Previously, we'd have 3-18 ct cartons in the mix in our fridge.)

Spring is on the way, and that means that we're about to see exactly what these girls can do.  You may remember that they started laying just when the weather turned cold and we have not yet seen them lay at full speed.  We've just been enjoying the winter crumbs of them laying.

New Year...New Stuff.
We are also starting talk of expanding our flock.  Well, our 17 girls can rest assured they won't have to share their little house.  No, we're considering this summer getting some meat birds and housing them in a portable "tractor" they call them on the south side of our yard.  These ones will not have names, and the kids won't play with them like the laying ones...although I don't think I'll be able to keep them away from chicks.

Knut learned to "harvest" chickens last summer at our friend's house and he thinks he's ready to do our own this year.  He said he'd do the chopping, and I'll do the plucking.  I watched the plucking last year and I'm gearing up for it.  Deep breaths...

On the upside, I think I'll need some new specialty knifes in my kitchen to deal with our "fresh" meat and I'm all about new kitchen gadgets.  More deep breaths...

We want to be sure to keep the laying birds and meat birds separate as they require different things and can tend to bully each other.  We're hoping for some pasture fed meat and we might join in with Knut's cousin on this venture.  Anyway, I'm supposed to be researching meat breeds right now, so I should probably sign off.  Planning is half the fun sometimes anyway!

9 comments:

Mom said...

Okay, so I should probably take a couple deep breaths myself, since we'll probably be roped into plucking this summer, right? It's okay, I used to do it as a kids when we went to visit our cousins on the farm. It will bring back old memories!

in the coop said...

It's like we're living the same life. We have had a bad mice year, but can't have a cat. The dogs have chased away or killed every cat that has come around.
Our chickens are going through the same canabalism thing. We had a coyote hanging around and it got two chickens. We kept the hens in the coop for a couple of weeks. Our egg numbers started dropping, from the usual 14, we only got 5 yesterday.
We have done meat chickens before. They were yummy, and the plucking really wasn't all that bad. It was seeing those sad things get so big so fast that was hard. After just a few weeks they were too heavy to even walk around.
I can't stomach getting another flock of straight meat chickens. A combo-type layer/meat would be better.
Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I remember butchering chickens twice a year with my grandparents! My job was to pluck or sometimes I'd get to empty the gizzard of it's corn sack :) It's not as gross as you might think really...and your kids will have fond memories of butchering days too if it involves friends/cousins/family like ours did!

I'm guessing your last comment was about pasture fed beef? Have you asked around the other farms that might have cattle to see if you could purchase a 1/2 steer? We have a few pasture acres on our property and each year have three cows and 3 calves, BUT we also purchase 3 young steers and feed them out for several months on pasture, our own hay, and our own corn/feed mix. Makes for some delicious meat that we know exactly where it comes from and what's in it! We've never had trouble selling the other 5 halves...it's a hot commodity.

good luck!

Helen said...

Try putting out a bit of cat food for the kitty...that should take the edge off her hunger so she stops going after the eggs, but is still a good mouser. Good luck!

Salt in Suburbia said...

Hi Gretchen (BTW, I'm Gretchen too). Growing up, my family raised meat chickens. We live in MN too and we always had great luck w/ white rocks. Also, if you're not roasting the chicken, you can skin them instead of plucking. It goes much faster.

Kitchen shears are useful for cutting up the chickens for frying.

To anonymous above, cleaning the gizzards was my job as little kid too! I thought it was fun, but I didn't like eating them. My grandpa ate them :-)

Heidi said...

My whole family enjoyed this story around the dinner table tonight!

Mika said...

Gretchen..as you know, last year was our first year w/ chickens so I have not much more experience than you BUT! LOL! First, we got a couple of Cornish Cross chicks to get our feet wet with meat birds. It was heartbreaking :( We won't get that breed again. Even though ours were more mobile than some due to being able to free range, all of their feathers underneath were gone from dragging the ground, etc. and they really are just gross. This year I think we're going to go with Freedom Rangers. They're also a meat breed, but not QUITE as fast growing as the Cornish (and don't get quite as big, but I'd rather they enjoy life than get HUGE). Second, we skin all our chickens when butchering (although plucking by hand wasn't that bad)just because generally I either cook them in the slow cooker or boil them to get the meat to use in other dishes so the skin makes no difference. Hope my advice helps a bit!

little macaroon. said...

Oh my gosh - I gasped out loud when I heard about that naughty cat in the nesting box! What an awful thing to discover. I've always been tempted by urban chickens in our (relatively) large back garden, but it sounds so complicated, and I do already have a cat... who's quite the mouser...

Angeline said...

I love cats as well. I actually have a Mynx. He's so lovely. By the way, it's good to know that the cat is helping you make your house mouse-free. The thing is, you can't have all pets in a house.

Pet Supplies Chicago