Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Chicks at 3 Weeks

Time flies when you're having fun!  The chicks seem to grow so fast, too.  Now they're 3 weeks old as of Sunday, May 25, 2014, and going through the awkward stage of half down/half feather look. Vanilla's 'chirp' is also starting to sound less like the chick and just 'oddly older'.

Sage standing on the inverted glass inside the waterer.  Feeling tall and adventurous as always.
We haven't seen a lot of chest-bumping like we saw with the first flock 2 years ago.  We have seen a little bit of that go on between Vanilla and Mocha, but it seems that the pecking order has already been established among these girls.  Vanilla, being the biggest of the three, is the boss bird.  And Sage, being the smallest, seems perfectly OK at the bottom of the pecking order.  They don't peck at one another at all, even when a treat of fresh green is offered.  Sage is the most fearless and friendly, so she gets to the treat first, while the larger, but more timid girls are perfectly happy checking  to make sure everything is safe before jumping in.

Vanilla and Mocha.  Pretty feathers are coming in.
Not only more of their feathers are coming in and they look more like chickens than chicks, a start of their comb is visible.  Since they're still chicks, the beginning of their tiny combs look yellow like the beaks.

Here, you can see Sage's 'baby comb'.  Of the three, Vanilla and Mocha are Easter Eggers, so they will have what they call 'pea combs' - just a much smaller, 'crumbled' kind of comb, and their wattles (these flappy things under the chins of the chickens) will be hidden with their feathers.  Sage, on the other hand, will have visible comb and wattles.

The baby girls are healthy, active, and friendly.  Chickens are such joy!!  As I've said before, the eggs are just the bonus of keeping chickens as pets, I feel. ^_^  The little ones are quite good at "flying".  They can go straight up from the ground level to the top of the ramp by flying.  They sometimes do the same coming down.  Having fun with shortcuts... just because!

Now, off to the garden pics.  This season, I have minions of chamomile all around the herb box.  They were the volunteer plants that germinated from seeds dropped from last year's cluster that I grew from seeds.  I love the scent of this herb and I wouldn't mind if we end up with an even larger patch... :D

The clusters of Sweet Williams (Dianthus) by the goldfish pond are doing well, too.  We had more rain than usual this spring and everything in the backyard is really enjoying it (although we had a much later start of spring growing season due to harsh winter and late cold snaps well into May).

Our goldfish pond is small, but we have a waterlily, which seems to be spreading just fine.  After a ho-hum performance last year, it's coming back with vigor this spring.  We've already had 5 blooms and more are on the way.

Had a terribly late start on the peas.  I almost gave up on the idea of spring veggies altogether.  By the time it was finally starting to warm up, it was already April, and we still had multiple killing frosts after that.  These guys were planted in April, and just now starting to really take off.  But now the temperature is expected to reach 90 degrees for daily highs...  I'll probably get some shade cloth for these.

After not planting window boxes for 2 seasons, finally got some new boxes for my birthday at the end of April.  Got a little crazy shopping for flowers and the extra flowers found their way into pots in the backyard.  I have them inside the fenced-in area for now to keep them safe from the older chickens that free range.

In the front yard, on both sides of the walkway, we have bachelor's buttons that I don't remember planting.  Not only do I not remember planting the seeds, these guys have managed to get 3 1/2 to 4 feet in height.  I've never seen them grow quite so tall.  The bees love these flowers and there's a hum of them all day long in the front yard near these clumps.  Spring is such a beautiful time of the year~!!

The vegetables (3 tomatoes, 2 eggplants, 1 sweet bell pepper) have been planted this weekend.  I've decided to plant "German Queen" alone in the old garden area way back by herself since it's an heirloom and heirlooms have done rather poorly in the past in SFG boxes in my backyard.  The other hybrid tomatoes are in the SFG  boxes with different veggies.

Almost finished with the planting for the season, with the roses and delphinium finally in the bed in the front, annual bed has been planted, and the sunflower fence in the back has also been sown.  Now we have two large pots and a dedicated flower SFG to plant.  My husband is building another SFG box, which will also require protection from our free-ranging chickens (fence time!), so I still don't have all the details figured out yet.  It's a work-in-progress. :D

Monday, May 19, 2014

Chicks Are Two Weeks Old

Time flies!  Our babies are already 2 weeks old (Today is Day 15 to be precise.).  They are starting to have more feathers coming in with downy fluff disappearing little by little. T_T  But they're still so fun to watch.  This past week, the weather has warmed up considerably (above seasonal average), so we have decided to let them try the run by opening the access to the ramp.

This pic was taken on Thursday, May 15, 2014.  They would only take a few steps onto the ramp, so Jr. helped the chicks out of the coop and into the run for the first time.  They had so much fun with more space!

They forage quite well, scratching with their legs and picking stuff up.  Their eyes are quite keen, and ants and other small insects don't stand a chance.

At first, they stayed close to one another while they explored the run.

This crossbar posed a bit of a challenge at first.  It's interesting to see the different styles of problem solving among the chicks.  Sage (black and light yellow) hopped right over the obstacle like no big deal.  She is the smallest of the group, but by far, the most agile.  The other two walked under the crossbar limbo-style.  They did that for a day, then started hopping right over on Friday.

Mocha: "I'm getting the hang of this ramp thing!  Why walk all the way down when you can fly off?"

Vanilla - light yellow with light brown and grey markings.

They didn't figure out how to get back into the coop until Saturday, which was also the first time they came down the ramp on their own.  Sometimes two chicks would be in the coop while one got left behind in the run.  Whenever that happened, the one that got lonely would chirp quite loudly, calling for help.  (But the other two were usually quite oblivious...)  So we did a little bit of intervening whenever this happened.

Fiona, one of our mature hens, seemed to like the chicks right away.  She would come by the little ones' run and check them out without causing a stir or making any threatening gesture.  Dorito, on the other hand, studied the chicks on Thursday, while they were still in the coop at the top of the ramp, and started squawking like mad and wouldn't stop until I gave her treat to eat to distract her.  This lasted for 2 1/2 days.  I've never heard her vocalize quite this loudly - ever!  She finally calmed down about the little ones on Saturday afternoon.  Complained just slightly on Sunday, and finally settled down on Monday.  *sigh of relief*  Now both Fiona and Dorito would walk around the younguns' run calmly without the drama.

This afternoon, I found Vanilla (light yellow and brown) taking a dust bath... right next to the water bowl. LOL  I had to move the water bowl away from the hole she had made for herself for dust bath.  It's so fun to watch the chicks do this.  Some start this a lot earlier than the others.  They look completely dirty with dry dirt all over their feathers, but they seem utterly content.  Our older girls do this all over the backyard side by side.  Some of the holes get rather deep. ^^;

We have our Square Foot Garden boxes sectioned off with chicken wire fencing to keep the girls out.  They're quite destructive with their strong feet (and their appetite for greens).  Some of the new purchases I made yesterday at the garden center includes this gorgeous delphinium plant.  :D  The sky blue gets deeper as the blooms mature.  Just gorgeous!  I'm going to be planting this in the front flower bed along with irises and roses.

Also bought yesterday was this "German Queen" tomato (heirloom).  Supposed to grow quite tall and bushy so I'm thinking of taking her out into the far back and giving her a plenty of room to grow with staking.  I've never tried growing this variety before.  In 2012, another heirloom was planted, but did poorly in the box, so I'm going to take her out back to my old gardening plot with plenty of room.

"Indigo Rose" hybrid tomato.  Fruits go from 'purple and green' to 'purple and red'.  Something I have never seen at the local garden center before, so I thought I'd give it a try. :D  I'm excited about this one.

"White Eggplant".  I've always grown the slender Japanese "Ichiban", but been bitten by the 'try something new' bug this season. ^_^

Zebra Iris from our back yard near our tiny 'goldfish pond'.  The girls were eating the leaves when they were first coming up about a month ago, so these poor plants were delayed somewhat.   Still blooming beautifully now.  (And the pond area has been sectioned off with chicken wire fencing once again.)

Strawberry patch (One of our SFG boxes is dedicated entirely to strawberries.) is looking strong after an application of blood meal and bone meal earlier in the season.  Look at these tiny fruits already! :D

I found this yesterday.  After a disappointing late frost killed all the tender flower clusters in April (We've been denied a full show for the 3 seasons in a row... T_T ), I saw these two clusters blooming beautifully.  You can see the remains of the dead flower clusters all over in the background.  It would have been quite a show had all of these survived.  Better luck next year!

Found this yesterday in the front yard, also.  A luscious pink peony~!!  Love the ruffles of petals.  Just so pretty!!  We have deep burgundy, pink, and white peonies.  The pink ones are my favorite. ^_^

I'm still behind with the planting project around the house.  Hopefully, I'll get it all done eventually, and get to take photos of pretty flowers and robust vegetables all season long.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Day 10 of Baby Chicks

Since the hatch date written on the sheet that came with the shipment said "hatch date: May 5", that's their birthday, and it's already Day 10 for these little ones.  We had Lavender (the smallest of the four) come down with 'pasty butt' on Saturday afternoon, which I cleaned up carefully with warm water and put her back in the brooder.  But then on Sunday morning, I found her trampled on by her sisters and unable to stand on her own.  Although she no longer had 'pasty butt' at that point, being unable to fend for herself from her active sisters, I made a decision to separate her from the flock and made a make shift home for her with an unused aquarium with a wirecloth cover, a heat lamp, and a thermometer.  She required assistance drinking and eating.  Her strength seems to come and go.  Within the few days, she was so far behind in size.  On Tuesday morning, when I got up for feeding, I found her unresponsive.  Although I was not surprised (Each time I checked on her hourly, I was relieved to see her alive and amazed at her spirit.), I felt sad that she didn't make it.  It's amazing how quickly we get attached to these little babies.  So Vendie is no longer with us.  I will always think of her whenever I look at the remaining healthy sisters, though...  Rest in peace, Lavender.

It's funny how 'dead' they can look when sleeping.  They are so relaxed.  I remember when I first saw one of the chicks sleeping like this with my first flock, I thought it was dead.  They do look like they just fell onto the floor, exhausted, don't they?  This was taken on Day 9.

Look how much their wing feathers have grown!  Chicks grow so fast.  I'm really excited that Vanilla is looking a lot like Coco (from my previous flock).  She looks like she'll be the 'wheaten' coloration. :D  She's also the biggest - which worries me a little bit... "What if she turns out to be a roo?"

They're suspicious of the camera, and won't look at it much.  So this shot is just plain amazing to me. XD  Got them just as they were waking up from a nap. Clockwise from upper left, Sage, Mocha, and Vanilla.  Look how cute their little tail feathers are!

Vanilla is the big sis, the boss chick of this trio.  So far, she's the largest, and seems to have the feistiest attitude.  The others seem to cuddle up to her when scared.  You can see Mocha's pretty wing feather patterns starting to form in this photo.

Eventually, they all go into the farthest corner from where I'm trying to take the photo and act like the people in an elevator - looking at nothing on the walls.

And they pretend that I'm not here.  "Just stay quiet and don't look at her.  If we can't see her, she can't see us."  XD

Well, the weather is supposed to warm up nicely toward this weekend and beyond, although we just had record cold overnight low with a freeze warning this morning.  If it's 85 degrees during the day like the weatherman says, they might be able to venture out off the ramp and into the run for a little bit of fresh air and dirt!  I think my last babies also ventured out at about 2 weeks of age (and it was hours of entertainment for our kitties to watch them LOL).

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Chicks and a Mega Egg

This has been a strange, uncharacteristic spring.  It did the typical "hurry up and get super hot fast", and it certainly had a few late killing frosts that we've come to expect after decades in the Grand Valley, but we just might set a record for the latest killing frost, coming this Tuesday.  We are expecting a fairly nasty storm on Mother's Day Sunday, and it has been unseasonably cold for the past two days.  I am having to monitor the new chicks's brooder temperature on a regular basis.  I do change their water regularly (3 times a day, or more, if necessary), and naturally check on them, but the fluctuation in outdoor temperature has made this a little tricky.  After all, our setup is not a science lab, but a rather old-fashioned, basic stuff.  When the outdoor temperature during the day, in the sun, gets to be 85 degrees, which it was just a few days ago, the brooder only requires a small bulb in the heat lamp.  But then, if the morning low is around 40 degrees, we definitely want to adjust that.    This is one thing that's more difficult with a smaller brooder area this time around.  Just like fish aquarium, small space changes its environmental conditions a lot faster than a larger space. ^^;

That said, we've had a chance to observe our chicks and decide on their names. :D  I wish I could take pictures of them all looking at me and holding still, but they just won't do that. LOL  If anything, they're always looking away just as I think I'm ready to take a great shot...

From left, Vanilla (light yellow Easter Egger chick), Mocha (dark brown Easter Egger), Lavender and Sage (Barred Plymouth Rocks).  Mocha is a spaz.  She runs around the other three in circles or between two making figure 8.  Hard to believe she was looking really tired and wobbly upon arrival and I worried she may not make it.   She's a tough little chicky.

Unfortunately though, overnight, Lavender has developed a Pasty Butt, and she was weak this morning.  I carefully removed the crusty poop from her vent with warm water and cotton balls.  She was able to poop shortly afterwards and ate a little bit, but mostly sleeping.  Hope she's going to be OK.

So hard to take cute pics of chicks!  Frustrating... XD

But so much easier to take pics of the ever-so-cooperative eggs!  Check out the Mega Egg Fiona laid on Friday morning!!  This has got to be a two-yolker, I think.  The one on the left is the egg she laid just a day before.  That's about the regular grocery store's "large" egg.  The colors are very pretty, aren't they?  Love Easter Eggers for their green eggs.  Jr. thinks Fiona's eggs have a nicer flavor than Dorito's.  Their eggs definitely have perkier yolks, and the yolk colors are more orange than yellow.  When I cracked a store-bought egg next to one of our girls' eggs, the difference was noticeable.  I'll have to take a pic of that sometime and post.  *Edit: Just weighed the Mega Egg on my digital scale and it said 3.5 oz!  

Now that our ladies have come out of the molting phase, their feathers are just fresh and gorgeous!  Look how beautiful Fiona is with her gold and black neck feathers!!

Dorito, pecking on the treat cube.  They love the 25-lb cube of various seeds and grains.  They come out of the coop in the morining, and usually run straight to the cube.  Dorito has also finished molting and looking quite beauitful these days.  I love her red feathers, too. :D

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Chicks Have Arrived!

For the second time, I was picking up the supplies for the chicken brooder at Walmart (thermometer, water bowl, heat lamp bulb, etc.) when my phone rang and it was the local post office letting me know that my chicks have arrived and they're ready to be picked up.  :D  The most exciting kind of phone call!  It's also kind of fun to go to the back of the post office and ring the service bell and get to go into the receiving and sorting area.   I saw a double boxed package with round holes and heard it chirping~!!  It's always a good sign when they sound strong and demanding in the box. LOL

I hurried home and set up the brooder in a hurry.  Put the light bulb in the fixture, put the pine shavings on the floor, place the thermometer, put the feed and water out.  Always last minute.  I don't know how this is always the case... ^^;

I tried to open to box inside the house to take a peek, but as soon as I got to the inner box's lid, I could see the little one trying to jump out.  And of course, the cats started to congregate as soon as they heard the chirping, I had to bring the box outside to the coop and open it inside there.

I was thrilled to see one Easter Egger chick that was light yellow with patches of grey on top.  Looks a lot like how Coco looked as a chick! :D  And the other Easter Egger chick is brown and black, so I'm guessing that she'll look like Fiona. :D  The dark girl already has the fluffy cheeks!!  So adorable~!!  This one was not as sure-footed as the other girls, so I was a bit worried, but she found water right away, and perked up very quickly after a drink and pecking on the crumbs.  All good!

The two Barred Plymouth Rock girls are tiny, but full of engergy.  They look practically egg-size.  So cute!  Frigglish was our first Barred Plymouth Rock chicken and she was exceptionally sweet and smart, so we're hoping the new girls will have similar temperament.  (Our previous Easter Egger, Coco, had a wonderfully sweet personality, too.  Always jumping on me and talking to me. ^_^)

The morning sun was behind me and I could only open the door a crack, so it was a little hard to get good pictures, but I'll keep trying.  To the left are the two Easter Egger girls, that will lay green or blue-green eggs, and the black with light yellow chicks are the Barred Plymouth Rock babies, that will lay brown eggs.  It's always amazing to see how active these chicks are.  Running and jumping at such young age. ^_^

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

New Coop Update

This coop was the easiest thing to put together.  The sets of screws were marked clearly (You'd have to be really careless to miss the label...) and the instructions easy peasy (Once again, you'd have to be in such a hurry to mess things up...) Everything matched up nicely and we didn't encounter any problem. :D  All done in less than 30 minutes.  Painting the parts took a LOT longer. lol

We'll be doing a few small reinforcement modifications based on the reviews this coop got at Tractor Supply Co web site.  I don't think a lot of reviewers painted this either.  There were some reviewers who complained about the wood swelling up and the coop coming apart in a short time, so we've decided to give it a nice coat of paint.  Besides, it was nice to match the colors of the existing coop.

Loki, one of our cats, inspects the new coop.
I'm going to close the opening that connects to the ramp and set up a brooding area in the coop and nesting box section while the chicks are little.  Once they are a few weeks old, I'm sure they'd be wanting to come out off the ramp and into the run. :D  They also sell a matching extended run kit, that connects to the door on the end.  That might be nice once the chicks get a little bigger. :D

We're done for now, except for deciding on a definite location for this new coop.  We need to set it up on the wood frame off the ground to further protect from moisture. ^_^

Geting Ready to Assemble the Coop

It took me seemingly forever to paint the sections of the new coop.  Well, the small trims and hardware definitely slowed me down.  But the pieces are painted and ready to be assembled. :D  Got a notice from the chicken company that our chicks have shipped yesterday afternoon.  So we really need to get this coop done and a brooding area set up for the new babies.  (Still more shopping to do at the farming supply store...)

The older ladies (my hens) are curious duo as all chickens are.  They also seem to think that the white paint I am applying to the chicken coop is yogurt and they insist on getting to my paint tray!  It was a little rough to be painting in the sun when it was 85 degrees, breezy, dust and elm seeds flying everywhere, and having to fend off the chickens.  ^^;  Thank goodness I'm done painting! 

I love the classic barn colors for our chicken coop. ^_^  We even have a neighbor whose garage is painted in this color scheme.  It was also handy that the local Walmart sells "Barn and Fence" paint in white and barn red. :D   This little coop (meant to house 4 bantams or 2 regular size chickens --  We're only going to keep our new chicks in there until they're 16 weeks and can be moved to the large coop.) came pre-assembled into panels and sections in a big box.  I was expecting the typical furniture where you have to read hard-to-understand instruction (in English but clearly written by a non-native English speaker in ... most likely China), so I was happy to see the panels. :D

The pieces are dry now.  Our cat Twinky (the smallest in our family) inspects the paint job on one of the panels as Dorito challenges.  Dori-chan is actually larger and heavier than Twinky.  Our chickens free-range in the backyard now and the cats don't bother them.

Fiona (Easter Egger) has her feathers back! :D  Isn't she beautiful?  Gold, brown, and black.  Quite a beauty!  Her eggs are a pretty shade of green.

Looks like Dorito has found a flaw in my paint job... LOL  It really is a lot of FUN to work in the backyard with the girls checking on you from time to time.  I love chickens.  I never knew that they were such inquisitive and social birds.  I'm so looking forward to the new chicks!!  I'll be able to spend a lot of time with them and hand-tame them. ^_^

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Getting Ready for the Chicks

Since we lost 4 of our birds last summer, and we didn't have much luck obtaining birds from local chicken owners (and didn't like just how long it takes for them to become hand-tamed...), we've decided to buy four chicks.  We're mail ordering them again because of the wider variety of breeds available and the small minimum.  (Local farm supply places do sell chicks in spring, but they were rather limited in the variety of breeds they offered and the minimum purchase they imposed were too high for backyard chicken enthusiasts within the city limits.   Too bad. )

So my daughter and I went over the breeds and decided on 2 Barred Plymouth Rock chicks and 2 Easter Egger chicks, mainly because the previous ones we owned were so sweet in temperament and smart, too -- just a joy to have as pets!  But these breeds were smaller than some of the others and tend to get bullied, so we got two of each... hoping that at least the Barred Plymouth Rocks will look similar enough to avoid being  too heavily picked on. ^^;

Since our two birds are already 1 1/2-years-old, we're building the new girls a smaller coop where they can grow until they reach about 16 weeks old and fully feathered in.  Chicks won't stand a chance against a big bully Dorito, who asserts her superior ranking to Fiona every chance she gets. ^^;

We bought a chicken coop kit from Tractor Supply Co. this time, rather than try to figure out an extension to the existing coop.  It's already pre-assembled into panels and sections, so it shouldn't take very long to assemble.  We read the customer reviews and some people were complaining about how the wood swelled after a rain and things fell apart.  So I'm painting the coop to match the big girls' coop (barn red with white trims).  We'll most likely reinforce some sections, too, based on what some of the customers said on the review.  We will also give the coop a base of pre-treated timber so that it won't be sitting on the ground directly.

Painting turned out to be rather tedious with lots of trims and hardware to go around. ^^;  But hey, better safe than sorry.  And even after the new girls can join the main coop, this smaller one will be handy as a quarantine co0p for new aquisitions in the future. ^_^

While I was painting the 'fence white' paint on the trims, I had to chase away Dorito because she tried to eat the paint, thinking it's her favorite Greek yogurt I feed the girls often. ^^;  Sometimes I marvel at how smart these birds are, and there are times when I just go, "Really?" when they try to eat paint or packing peanuts...  You've got to watch these babies.  They seem to think everything is food. LOL

Got a real late start on this year's boxes.  We've had freezing temperatures throughout April and on the first days of May!  Planting has been postponed for a lot of tender varieties.  Here in this photo, you see some onions carried over from last year, new pea seedlings, and some salad mix that self-seeded from last year's plants.

Violas I bought in April.  They're pretty hardy and survived multiple frosts and doing well in our Bees and Butterflies Flower Box.  :D  Nice to see some colors.

The flowers on strawberry plants in the Strawberry Box.  Some got killed by the frosts, but more are coming.  This is these plants' 3rd season.  They're looking really strong and I'm hopeful that they will have a fantastic year. ^_^

That's it for today.  Will have more shots of the chicken coop in progress in the next few days.