Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Inevitable

Being a member of numerous chicken farming groups, I often see where someone's entire flock or most is destroyed by some predator.  It is absolutely heartbreaking!  We all try to build the best fences and pens we can to protect our flocks, but sooner or later the inevitable happens.  

Our inevitable came a few months back.  We fed and cared for the chickens before leaving to spend some time with our son, daughter in law, and beautiful grand baby, Emmylou on Halloween.  We had a wonderful day!  As usual, upon our return home, we change into work clothes and head out to care for the birds.  This time many of our rare breed, Silver Laced Orpingtons were gone (without a trace), as well as some of our younger Malines.  The Serama seemed to be all in their chicken yard, which is accessible through a very small gate (too small for a dog to fit through). Those chickens that were in the corral for the day were also alright.  We spent a long time trying to locate the missing chickens.  We also found that our dog was out of her pen.  This was very peculiar since our eighteen year old had fed and watered her and locked the pen before we left.  However, she is not a good chicken dog.  Due to the circumstances involving her being out, we are unsure as to the real culprit in the disappearance of our chickens. 

We found one of our eight Silver Laced Orpingtons in the shed on the barn.  She was up in a window ledge.  We found one Cemani up in the rafters of the same shed.  We found one Maline hen of those missing and she was alive.  We searched the area and all the way to the house from the barn and found no birds, dead or alive.  We remained hopeful that they escaped and were roosting somewhere on the place.  The next morning we resumed our search.  We did find the remains of 4 or 5 of the missing chickens.  We have never found the rest.  

The sad part of this is that the we raised the Silver Laced Orpingtons from chicks that we purchased.  They were beautiful and just about ready to start laying.  We went from our original eight chickens down to the one survivor.  We found a rooster to buy so that we had one pair.  I was able to find a young pair to purchase for my husband for Christmas.  We are starting over again with that breed.  

It is absolutely heartbreaking to come home and find your birds gone or dead, no matter what the cause.  We have had neighbor's dogs that have come into the yard once before and killed some of our turkeys.  However there had not been any problems for a long time.  We have learned not to become to comfortable with our situation.  We live on a dead end road and have been the dumping ground for many unwanted dogs and such over the years.  I truly wish that folks wouldn't get pets that they are unwilling to care for.  IF you are unable to care for them, please take them to a shelter!  Don't dump them on the roadside for other people to have to care for them.  

Monday, October 31, 2016

Back on Track

Fall brings with it a busy family time for everyone and we are no exception.  We have been busy sharing the East Texas Yamboree and Halloween festivals with our youngest (19 months) old grand baby.  It is wonderful to experience these things through her eyes.  We also have an upcoming "Backwoods Marketplace" vintage style Christmas show that we take part in each year.  Needless to say we have been very busy lately and I apologize for being a little lax in my blogging as a result.

We are now getting back on track.  We made the painful decision not to raise ducks any longer.  All our ducks found new homes.  We are reducing the price of our pen raised Eastern Wild Turkeys to $60.00 a pair (really good price) to bring the numbers down for the winter months.  Having a small farm (a farm of any size) is hard work.  We like to be sure that all of our birds have warm dry places to get when our weather turns cold and wet, as it occasionally does.  When the temperatures begin to consistently drop into the lower 40's, we will cover the pens and coops with plastic and add heaters and lamps as necessary for the birds, such as Serama, that do not handle the cold well.  We slow our hatching down considerably for the winter.  We are unable to ship when the temperatures are the hottest and coldest here.  As a "hatchaholic", this is one of the harder things to do but necessary in order to have the space to keep them all warm and healthy.

My husband and son have been very busy building extra pens and an aviary for our Peafowl so that they can get out on warmer days and exercise those wings.  It will be finished this week hopefully when the aviary cloth arrives.  We are very anxious to see the birds in their new area.  We also want to be able to watch them strut and allow the neighbors to see them as well.  We have three Peahens and one Peacock.  We will hopefully have eggs in the spring!  Just in time for the hatching to ramp back up.

We love to go down and walk among the various birds that are allowed to free range on our property.  They are all very docile and sweet.  Most of them will eat from our hands and come when we whistle to collect their treats.  Raising these birds is very therapeutic and calming.  All of the kiddos in our life, grandchildren and friends kiddos, LOVE the birds.  They love coming over and feeding the birds meal worms. We love sharing them with everyone.

Happy Halloween!  Hope you all have an amazing week! For those interested and nearby, I will include the times for the Backwoods Marketplace coming up in November.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

East Texas Yamboree

Being from Upshur County, my family has attended the East Texas Yamboree each and every year of my life (that's been quite a few years).  This year will be no exception.  This year we will be enjoying the Yamboree through the eyes of our youngest grandchild, Emmylou.  This will be her first year to really understand and enjoy the lights, sounds and happenings of the Yamboree.  She is nineteen months old and has become quite animated lately.  After their home burned last January, they lived with us here for about three months until they could buy a home and get readjusted.  Emmylou became quite the little farm girl.  She loves the chickens, ducks and turkeys that were part of her everyday life for those three months.  When we feed the chickens meal worms, she is right in there with us handing out worms.  We also have Peafowl and she really has taken an interest in them lately.  I mention all this to point out that I cannot wait to go with her to the Livestock Pavillion to see all the rabbits, goats, chickens, cows, and pigs.  She will be "Emmylou in Wonderland"!  I am not sure how many of you attend or even know of the Yamboree, but I assure you that if you are unfamiliar, you need to experience it at least once.

In addition to the Livestock Pavillion, there is an art contest, craft contest, canning contest, and I'm sure pie contests involving the famous Yams.  Downtown is where the carnival part of the Yamboree is held, as well as the School Parade on Friday and the Queen's Parade on Saturday.  These are also very enjoyable.  Many girls from local schools are included as duchesses, and Ladies in Waiting in the Coronation of the Queen.  The Queen is then presented on Saturday on her beautiful float in the parade.

If you are a fan of yams, then the Yamboree is the place to be to get all the yams you need.   You can purchase jellies, jams, and other canned goods as well.  There is also a craft show out at the Fairgrounds outside the exhibit building where the contests are held.  This craft show has grown in size annually.  We must not forget to mention the bandstand downtown where you can find all sorts of local talent playing all kinds of music.  Normally there is a street dance in that area on Friday night. The famous Barn Dance is on Saturday night just off of the downtown area.  Each year they have a great band.

If you haven't been to the East Texas Yamboree in Gilmer, Texas, it began yesterday and runs through this coming Saturday evening.  Come on out and enjoy yourself.  There is absolutely something for everyone at the Yamboree.  You might even run into some folks you know!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Heckle, Jeckle and the Peafowl Crew

I have always been in awe of Peacocks.  They are simply some of the most gorgeous birds on the planet.  From the start, I wanted to have Peafowl here at the Singleton Roost.  Early in our "chicken" adventure, I was gifted three Peafowl eggs.  We incubated them immediately and managed to hatch two of the three eggs.  I was thrilled beyond words to be the proud owner of peachicks.  They do not look anything like they do when they mature.  They are homely looking little critters at first.  I grew very fond of these two chicks and spent time with them daily feeding them meal worms from my hand to be sure they'd be tame.  They reminded me very much of Heckle & Jeckle.  I realize some of you are too young to know who that is, but if you Google them you'll see what my peachicks looked like.

Heckle & Jeckle
I knew we would need more peafowl so there would be varying bloodlines.  We soon found two that were a little older than Heckle & Jeckle.  One of them was a pied Spalding.  The four range in age now from 14 month to 18 months.  As they grew I waited on eggs only to find that Peahens do not mature until around 2 years of age.  There would be no eggs until then.  I shared pictures of my four beauties in a Peacock group to see if they thought I had Peahens and Peacocks.  Unanimously they said I have four Peahens.  What are the odds that I would hatch and buy only Peahens.  In my chicken world I hatch a large percentage of roosters and expected such from my Peafowl.  I now needed a Peacock for the flock.  We found our Peacock.  He now has four lovely ladies!  The more I research the Peafowl, the more I realize that a large amount of patience is required to raise these birds.

The Peacock does not mature until he is around 3 years old.  This is when his train (tail) becomes long and full. The train or tail can reach 6 feet in length and make up about 60% of it's body length, and is made of more than 200 feathers.  His wings will be a streaked brown and white design.  He will use his train in an effort to impress the girls!  However, they remain mostly uninterested with the exception of a short period of time in which they are ready to breed.  This happens at around 2 years of age for the girls.  It's best to only have around four Peahens to each Peacock.  The breeding season typically lasts from around April until late summer (August -September), at which time the male will molt and lose his tail and the fertility rate drops.  This ends the breeding for that season.  He then slowly begins to grow a new train and by the next March - April it is full and pretty again.  Each year the tail grows longer and fuller.

After breeding, the hens will lay an egg a day for around a week to ten days and then they will sit on the eggs to hatch them.  If the eggs are gathered daily, hens may continue to lay for up to a month.  Peafowl eggs are much too scarce and valuable to be eaten.  Incubation is an option for the gathered eggs.  They need to be kept at a temperature of 99.9 degrees for 28 days.  The chicks must then be kept in a brooder at a temperature of 95 degrees for the first week and dropped by 5 degrees per week until they are at room temperature. Most peachicks can fly within days of birth.  If bred in captivity and allowed to raise the chicks, peahens might raise three clutches per year.  Clutches vary in size and range from four to 10 eggs with 8 being the average.  It is said that chicks raised naturally by the hen are smarter and healthier, but chicks incubated and handled a lot are much tamer and friendlier.

Peafowl are long lived with wild peafowl living up to 20 years and domesticated peafowl having been known to live for 40 to 50 years.  There are two popular species of Peafowl, the India Blue, and the Greens.  There are 15 known colors of peafowl.  As a side note, I thought one of my early ones might be a peacock because at a young age it would fan it's tail.  In researching, I found that the females also fan their tails.  Their tails are just not a pretty as the males.

Heckle will still come to me to eat meal worms from my hands.  She will jump in my lap if I allow it.  Jeckle will come to me but wants her worms on the ground.  She is a bit more shy.  My other two girls still prefer that I throw them their worms a little distance from my feet.  Of course non of them can reach me for Heckle.  I still go in daily to feed them meal worms and work on keeping them tame.  We are currently planning a large aviary outside their pen for them to be able to get out and enjoy the sun and for others to be able to enjoy their beauty when they pass our farm.

Friday, September 30, 2016

One of a Kind

My husband loves the Belgian Malines because they are huge and ever so gentle.  However, we noticed that one of these wonderful hens started to act peculiarly about 6 months ago.  She kept going away from the others and always seemed to be calling chicks.  It was as if she had hatched some chicks and lost them.  She didn't want to be any part of the group of Malines either.  First we noticed that she was always away from the crowd.

It wasn't long until we would find her roosting with the cats.  Our two barn cats, Nala and Sandy, always lay around on the staircase in the barn.  We even feed them on the staircase.  Eventually we noticed that LuLu (the crazy chicken) would go get on the staircase with the cats to spend the night.  The cats didn't seem at all bothered by her strange behavior.  My husband would try to reintroduce her to the Maline flock.  She would go off alone and for the longest time would come back in the barn to sleep with the cats.

This phase passed and she moved into what we call our "Secret Garden".  Our chicken house and the Serama Runs are connected to this little sitting area underneath a shade tree.  She moved into the Secret Garden.  She decided she loved it there with the little chickens.  My Silkies run free there as well.  She likes being with them and a few Serama that have also moved into that area.  We have some cages that the Silkies and Serama are kept in at night (for safety).  She now has taken over one of those cages.  She is very nice though and shares it with a little Serama hen.  During the day, she comes in and out of the chicken house when we go in to feed the Serama.  She pretty much defends all that live in there with her.

LuLu posing for pics!
I decided I needed to take some pictures of Serama I have for sale.  I had my son bring a pair of Serama at a time into the Secret Garden to take their pictures.  He would set them down and they would scatter.  He would gather them up and pose them again, and off they would go.  LuLu watched this behavior for a while and then decided she could be of assistance.  She came over near them and posed for the camera.  I got a fantastic picture of her.  The Serama took a while to convince even with LuLu's help.  She is such a sweet strange hen.  She thought they were crazy for not posing, especially when the reward was meal worms.

A few days ago, my husband decided it was time to try again to reintroduce her to the Maline flock.  She came to my gate and stood and cackled at me until I opened it up and let her come "home".  She is now back sharing a cage with a little Serama hen at night and guarding and directing traffic in the daytime.  LuLu is definitely one of a kind!  She is more like a dog or cat than a chicken.  I suppose she will remain with my Silkies and Seramas until she decides otherwise!

The Secret Garden

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Jubilee Orpingtons - the Orpington of many colors

These wonderful chickens are known for their easy going sweet temperament.  They are stunning to look at as well.  Their base color is a bright mahogany with white tipped black spangles.  Their shanks and feet should be white and they have red eyes.  When purchasing Jubilee Orpingtons, be very attentive to their coloring to be sure you are in fact getting Jubilees.  There are some crosses to mottled Orpingtons that have a more black base color.  Jubilees are very fluffy in appearance, like most Orpingtons, making them appear larger then their actual weight.  The roosters will average  8 1/2 pounds when mature, while the hens will be around 7 1/2 pounds.

The Jubilees were introduced by the William Cook family in 1897. They were named for and presented to Queen Victoria for her Diamond Jubilee and have been in England for many years.  Being relatively new to the United States, they are more rare here causing the chicks to sell for around $35.00 each straight run.  We sell ours for $25.00 each when we are fortunate enough to have some left to sell.  They are greatly sought after and sell quickly.  

Jubilees are a dual purpose bird.  They are good layers and good meat birds as well.  The hens are good brooders and mothers.  Their eggs are a creamy light brown color.  Jubliees are cold hardy and mature quickly.  Again it is worth mentioning that they are the sweetest birds to have around.  They are extremely friendly and will eat from your hand. We have had them for a while now and never have had an attitude problem among them like with some other breeds.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Tiniest of Chickens

One of my favorite breeds of chicken is the Serama.  Who wouldn't love a miniature chicken?  These tiny little chickens originated in Malaysia and are the smallest breed of chicken in the world.  They fall into the following weight classes for competition.  They compete in cage and tabletop competitions.

          Roosters:                                                             Hens:
    Class A  up to 13 ounces                                    Class A up to 12 ounces
    Class B up to 16 ounces                                     Class B up to 15 ounces
    Class C up to 19 ounces                                     Class C up to 17 ounces

There are also some Micro classed birds with the Roosters weight falling up to 13 ounces, and the hen's weight up to 8 ounces.  The Micro are not viable as layers or for type normally.  They are mostly a novelty.  Everyone searches for Micro and Class A Serama before learning about them.  I have a little Class A hen who is precious and a valued pet.  However she has only laid about 4 eggs in the past year and only one hatched.  The chick that hatched was a class C at least and grew into a larger rooster.  I mention this to point out that class A won't always lay. When they do they won't always give you class A chicks and it's rare for their eggs to be fertile. For breeding purposes, most Serama breeders recommend a class B or C bird with B being the favorite weight class for breeding.  A class B bird will give you A,B and occasionally C class chicks.  

A Serama will eat approximately a pound of feed per month making them very affordable (unless of course you have as many as we do).  The size of a Serama is not nearly as important as the "type" of the bird.  The "type" refers to the bird having large chest that is held high, a high tail (coming straight up behind the head when the bird is posing), a short back, and a "V" shaped profile (meaning the back and the tail form a "V" from the side view).  The wings should point downward nearly vertical when they are alert and posed and the legs should be long enough to keep the wings just above the ground (showing the feet).  Type is very important in competition. Temperament is also a desired trait for these competitions.  The birds that are accustomed to people and other birds will tend to do the best. There are points given for each of the following categories in a tabletop competition.

                                                                    Type: 30 points
                                                                 Character: 25 points
                                                             Tail Carriage: 15 points
                                                            Wing Carriage: 10 points
                                                            Feather quality: 10 points
                                                               Condition: 10 points

 Originating in Malaysia they tolerate 90 - 100 degrees fairly well, but they do not tolerate cold well.  We cover our coops and runs with plastic in the winter and even use heaters when necessary to keep them at around 50 degrees minimum at night.  They come and go in and out of the coops during the daytime hours and do fine here in Texas

Now that I have shared all I have learned about these birds, I'd like to add that they are such friendly chickens.  They are easily trained and love human attention.  If you are wanting a pet chicken, find a pet quality serama that someone is willing to part with.  You will not regret having a Serama.  They will lay eggs and many of ours lay an egg a day.  However, the eggs are very small and if you want to eat them, it takes about 3 Serama eggs to equal a large store bought egg.  Still, how many people have a pet that lays breakfast?  


Sunday, September 18, 2016

East Texas Poultry Trades Day

We brought our son home from the hospital just in time to start thinking about the East Texas Poultry Trades Day at Gilmer, Texas this coming Saturday.  It will be held in the Yamboree Livestock Pavillion on Hwy 271 next to the Civic Center and Walmart.  The event will start at 9:00 A.M. and last until 3:00 P.M. on Saturday, September 24, 2016.   Our East Texas group held our first such Trades Day last May in Gilmer.  It was such a hit with the vendors (we got to visit and shop among ourselves) and our customers that our good friend who planned it all decided to go again in September.  We are looking very forward to this next event.  Our vendor list has grown considerably as has our customer list.  The show will have everything from chickens, ducks, turkeys, guineas and such to chicken coops, meal worm kits (so you can grow your own), cages, and much more.  We may even have some rabbits and goats.  It's a very enjoyable day for all.  If you live near Gilmer, Texas and can make it out to see us, we would love that!

The Singleton Roost will have Serama pairs for sale, Serama chicks and juveniles for sale, Guinea keets, possibly ducklings and young Eastern Wild Turkeys.  We are also hoping to bring some Belgian Maline chicks and roosters.  We will be there around 7:00 A.M. to get set up and ready. 

There will be many breeds of chickens represented at the event.  I know friends who are bringing Silkies (be still my heart).  I got my beautiful Blue Cream Silkie Rooster at the last Trades Day.  If you can find the time and live in the area, come on out and visit with us.  You might just find a chicken or two you cannot live without.  We all know how that goes!  

Check out the Facebook Page for this event - East Texas Poultry Trades Day.  There you will get a better idea of who all you can hope to see and what they will be bringing.  Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Never a Dull Moment

While our son has been in the hospital, my poor husband has literally had the weight of our world on his shoulders.  He has not only spent as much time with us at the hospital as possible, but he has also run errands for us, brought us food, AND cared for all of our birds.  Have I mentioned we have nearly 400 birds total?

Each day I gave him Tristan Updates (we came home late last night finally), and he gave me Chicken Updates!  We had 22 Silkies due to hatch the day after Tristan was admitted to the hospital.  We keep new babies in ten gallon aquariums with tops made of hardware cloth so that we can maintain the appropriate temperatures.  We currently have three of these full and a large one that he built.  My husband is very serious about our chicks and chickens having the best possible care!

He would occasionally call or text me about something funny a certain bird had done.  For instance, our broody cochin hens (who had no eggs of their own) have begun hatching the guinea eggs they were given to hatch.  It is funny that neither they nor the guinea keets seem to notice the difference.

The next day, one little Serama hen and her two chicks were let out to range.  Come nightfall, they were no where to be found.  He looked and looked and could not find them.  Our only hope was that they found a place to roost and went to roost.  Yesterday he called to say he had found them.  They went to roost with our silkies and were apparently UNDER the silkies when he checked!  All were well.

We had baby ducklings in the duck crib.  He let them out with the juvenile ducklings to roam around in the pen for the day.  They too went missing.  He found them completely outside the pen all huddled up.  This took an extensive search on his part.  He could not find how they got outside the pen fences.  They are fine as well.

Even during a family crisis (and we have had a major one), the chickens keep up with their antics.  There truly is never a dull moment at The Singleton Roost!

Monday, September 12, 2016

About my Son

Today's blog, my first in almost a week, won't be about the farm or the chickens or the ducks or turkeys.  Today's blog is about someone much more dear to my heart - our 18 year old son, Tristan who helps us on the farm.

Last week at this time we were enjoying Labor Day, with our family, cooking hamburgers and having fun.  We had no clue what was about to happen.  That evening, Our son started feeling a little "off" or "weak".  He just thought he'd worked out at the gym too hard.  Tuesday he awoke with a fever of 101 but not really any other symptoms.  Still we made an appointment and took him to the family doctor.  They didn't find anything specific and gave him a steroid shot and a Z-pack and sent us home.  This seemed to help and by Wednesday morning he had no fever and felt a little better.  He had a quiz at college (they are not forgiving on missing college) so he went and took the quiz.  By the time he reached home, his head was hurting really bad.  I took him back to the doctor when Ibuprofen and Tylenol could not stop the headache.  They tested for Strep throat and it was a positive.  He was given an antibiotic shot and sent home again.  All evening the headache worsened no matter what we did.  We fought it all night.  Thursday morning I loaded him up and took him back to the doctor's office not waiting on an appointment.  He was given a pain shot for the headache and still no affect.  Then they decided on blood work to check his white cell count.  It was high but not terribly high.  I had already asked about meningitis the day before and it was not high on the list of possibilities since he had his vaccine before high school and one last spring for college.  The decision was made to send him to the ER to do a CT Scan and a Lumbar Puncture to test for Meningitis.  The CT scan was clean but the Lumbar Puncture proved our worst fears - Meningitis.  They started treatment for bacterial (the worst possibility) but were leaning more towards it being viral (still horrible but not life threatening like the other).  The shock set in.  We were told they would send it off for cultures to be done to see if anything grew indicating Bacterial.  It was going to take 48 hours or more for this to be done.  They were treating for the worst and hoping for the best.  Viral Meningitis, although still extremely painful, will normally run it's course in 7 to 10 days.  They will treat the symptoms such as give you fluids, nausea medicines and pain medicines but there is not much more they can do for viral meningitis.  All day we braced ourselves to deal with viral meningitis.  Late that evening we were still at the ER waiting to be admitted to the hospital when a doctor from the hospital came in and rocked our already shaky world.  He said it was most likely bacterial and we would all have to have shots and until the cultures were negative we could assume it was bacterial.  He told us horror stories about worse case scenarios of losing hands, fingers, feet or limbs or even possible death.  He did NOT have a good bedside manner and scared our son to death.  My entire body went cold.  I could not feel anything, nor think.  We were horrified of the fate our son might be facing.

We were finally transferred to the hospital into the Progressive Care Unit and into isolation.  Anyone entering the room had to keep a mask on at all times.  All of this was in addition to our son's extreme level of pain in the form of a headache and occasional nausea. The nurses in that unit were amazing.  They were reassuring and very knowledgeable.   It still took them most of the night to get his pain to a manageable level.  They tried various pain medications including Morphine that did not work.  His pain level was an 11-12 on a scale of 1-10.  He is not a whiner and NEVER cries.  He begged for help.  Finally they found something that would bring it down gradually until it was a 3-4 the next day.  Three different antibiotics were given in the beginning.  The next day was great only to return to excruciating pain that evening.  Again they gave everything they could and ended up back to the same pain medication  as the night before (they had avoided it because it made him itch).  They added Benadryl to the mix for the itching.  He rested all day at a level 3-5 pain.  That evening, yesterday and last night his pain level has been down to a 2-3 with very little use of pain medication.  He is eating and moving about.  We have been moved to a regular room, no isolation and at long last yesterday we were informed that the cultures grew nothing and there was no need for us to be treated as well.  However, they will continue treating for bacterial as a precaution due to him having antibiotics in his system when the Lumbar Puncture was done.  This could possibly alter the cultures.  Our nightmare is easing up and although recovery could take a little while, he will recover.

My point in sharing this is to let others know to be persistent with their kids doctors and treatments.  You know your child better than ANYBODY!  A headache that cannot be managed with normal medicines accompanied by a fever are symptoms of something more serious.  Take the Meningitis shots recommended for high school and college.  It can be more serious without them.  Although our son's neck was not stiff to begin with it was sore.  This is another sign of meningitis.  Meningitis is not common and therefore not the first thing checked for.  Do not ignore your parental instincts.

Most importantly, we could not have gotten through this without the hundreds of church friends, friends and family and all their friends constantly praying for us.  It is our faith in God and His never ending grace and mercy that gives us the strength to get through this.  We hope to be recovering at home in a few days.  Thanks to all those who have called, texted, messaged, visited and most especially to those who are praying for us!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A Web full of Information

The World Wide Web can be a source of great information.  There are numerous websites for gaining information on the various breeds of chickens, their characteristics, and care.  Once you have chosen a breed to add to your flock or start your flock, research extensively BEFORE you buy if possible.  However, if you already own them it's never to late to learn.

"Google" your chosen breed(s).  There will be many pictures to view showing standards for each breed.  Each breed has a "standard of excellence" as many call it.  This will tell you what you need to look for in a particular breed and what you need to breed for as well.  There are many sites to suggest feed for certain breeds including plants and vegetables that are good for the chickens.  Flowering plants exist that will not only beautify your coop areas, but also be healthy for your chickens to snack on when they are allowed to range.  One such site that we have found particularly informative is www.the-chicken-chick.com.  She shares wonderful advice, tips, projects and more on her site.  Another great site is www.backyardchickens.com.  This site has forums that allow you to discuss things with other chicken owners.

Social media is another alternative for information.  Facebook has numerous groups for the different breeds of chickens, show and tell, selling and just discussion.  Go to Facebook and type in a specific breed in the search box.  Many groups will appear.  Click on a group to see what it's purpose is and to find out if it interests you.  Ask to join.  It's as simple as that.

Having Seramas, I have joined numerous groups about this breed.  One group that I find extremely helpful is "Serama Housing, Hatching, and Care"!  It is a wonderful group of Serama folks with a wealth of information.  Ask anything and they will be happy to offer guidance.  There are also Rare Breed groups and probably groups specific to your home area.  We are members of "East Texas Poultry Trades Day".  This group started to share information on our local East Texas Poultry Trades Day held twice a year in Gilmer, Texas.  We also allow buying and selling in the group.  Another wonderful group of very helpful folks.

Venture out and take advantage of the friendly people who have websites, blogs and more.  They are normally very willing to help.  Our website, www.thesingletonroost.com is currently under construction but will be updated any day now.  We are always happy to help in any way possible.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Photographing Feathered Friends

As a small chicken farmer in the "Age of Technology", there are many reasons to have good pictures of your birds.  In this day and age, you can sell your birds from many venues online.  Choices include - but are not limited to - websites, social media (which includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram to name a few), blogs, and online sales sites such as Craigslist.  All of the above are much more successful with pictures.  I must admit that I do not always have pictures with my ads.  This is due in part to the trouble I go through each time I try to photograph my feathered friends.

In the case of the Serama, who are known for posing, the minute they see the camera there will be NO POSING!  Chickens are like children.  When you need them to cooperate, invariably they will not.  I carefully choose the chickens to photograph based on the type and form they show while free.  I can set them up and pose them, UNTIL I pull out the camera and then the games begin.  Normally, I have to involve my son and my husband to herd and pose them.  The minute I get ready to snap the photo, they squat, fly or turn their back giving me a rear view.  For each twenty pictures I take, maybe three are worth keeping.  I am ALWAYS thankful for the good ones.  I have beautiful birds, but none like to be photographed.  Well I have to take that back.  We have one Belgian Maline hen that is different from the other Malines in that she does not appreciate their company and chooses to live among the Seramas and Silkies.  She is part of my camera crew.  She gets upset when they get upset and tries to show them how it's done.  She is a chicken diva!

Part of the Camera Crew
The larger chickens are ironically easier to photograph.  I try to get them in their natural settings.  I can use a telephoto lens to get good pictures of their usual antics without disturbing them too much.

The main thing I have learned is that "perfect" pictures present themselves when I don't have a camera handy.  I try to have a camera of some description with me at all times.  I might just have my phone with me, but I try to have a way to catch the "perfect" shots.  

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Chickens' New Clothes

Once we became chicken farmers, it wasn't long until some of the chickens started losing feathers.  This is startling for new chicken owners.  Feathers were everywhere and the egg laying stopped.  We were wondering what on earth this could be.  We found that at about 16-18 month old, chickens will have their first molt.  Molting normally occurs when the days grow shorter and the temperatures start to cool off.  Stress can also cause a chicken to molt.  With some chickens, molting is a gradual thing.  The other chickens just start dropping feathers. First of all, feathers all over the place normally means "fowl" play!  We once had a Jubilee Orpington hen that lost almost all of her feathers in a day or two.  She was almost naked and looked horrible.  We were afraid this had to be more than a molt.  Almost as quickly as the feathers fell out, they began coming back in.  She was very strange looking for a bit, but soon had her feathers back.  The new feathers were bright and pretty.  It amazed us that the old feathers looked normal until the new feathers came in.  We had not realized how dull they can become.

During molting, the hens will typically stop laying as well.  Even though they are not laying, the recommendation is to feed them a higher protein diet to aid in feather production.  Feathers consist of mostly protein!  The recommendations are to have at least 16% protein in their feed.  We normally feed at 20% protein year round.  We mix our feed with scratch, oats, minerals, probiotics and black oil sunflower seeds.  The sunflower seeds are another excellent source of protein for the birds.  We have found this mixture to keep them quite healthy along with allowing them adequate time to roam around and forage for insects, seeds and grass.

Soon enough the chickens have their pretty new feathers, and they look like school kids with their new fall clothes.  Laying gradually starts back up and all is well on the farm!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Hide and Seek

My husband normally opens up my Serama House early each morning.  He also opens the coops and let's the others go.  Several mornings he has commented about finding a little hen (Serama) in the Serama house when he went to open everything up.  He figured she just got left in there from the evening before when we closed it up for the night.  We generally leave the back door that leads into the pens open during the day so that there is some air circulating in this hot humid weather and turn a fan on the inside chickens.  Some of the Seramas from outside have learned that they can visit inside.  They do this from time to time. We just thought she was one of the "visitors" who occasionally got locked in at night.

Today my son, Tristan, went in to feed and water and noticed her still in there.  He tried to "shoo" her out, but she just hung around.  He noticed out of the corner of his eye, that she jumped on a bucket we have in there to use when changing out water.  He then saw her jump into an open bucket behind it.  For some reason, this little bucket had some pine chips in it and there she was.  She had been sitting on 7 eggs.  Three of these eggs had hatched, and three tiny little chicks were in the bucket with her and the other eggs.  She had to sit on those eggs, unbeknownst to us, for 21 days. She would be out of the bucket waiting on us occasionally.  When we opened the doors, she went out and got a bite to eat and got a drink.  She had access all day to come and go at will.  We would close the doors at night and she would be there in her bucket brooding.  We just thought she kept getting caught inside when we closed up for the evening.  We had one little rooster that made a practice of sleeping inside (loose) at night.  This just goes to show that where there is a will, there is a way.  She and the chicks are now resting comfortably in a nice place.  We placed the remaining eggs in the incubator to finish hatching.  

My little Serama hens have got to be some of the broodiest chickens in the world.  We have nest boxes all over the pen outside, yet she chose a hidden bucket inside the chicken house to lay and brood.  Once they decide on something, you are not changing their mind! One time we had a little hen that laid an egg behind the sink and decided to brood there.  She finally gave up on that idea because the sink is a very busy place in the mornings when we water and feed.  These adorable little chickens never cease to amaze me.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Helpful Hints for Beginners

There is a steep learning curve for the chicken enthusiast just getting started.  However, there are also many wonderful "chicken people" out here who are willing to give the benefit of their earned experience.  What follows is basic information that we have gained with trial by fire!

Pullets are young female chickens that haven't begun to lay.  Laying an egg is a right of passage for a chicken.  The minute she starts laying, she becomes a hen.  Cockerels are young males that haven't reached sexual maturity yet.

Roosters are not necessary to have eggs.  You can have just hens if you just want eggs.  A rooster is needed if you want to hatch those eggs and have chicks.  Another useful tidbit is that one rooster can handle eight to twelve hens.  While having a rooster isn't necessary to have eggs, he will really take care of his "girls" by finding food and calling them to eat, warning them of impending danger, and even fighting for them if necessary.  He will be their personal bodyguard.  A good rooster will even help with the chicks that his hens hatch.  Woodrow, our oldest Phoenix rooster, will get on the roost at night with two to three chicks under each wing while Charlotte, the oldest hen, roosts alone.  He seems to realize she needs a break.  Prime, our Belgian Maline "yard boss" is ALWAYS the last Maline to enter the coop at night.  He makes sure that all are in before he goes to roost.  Roosters can be very helpful, especially to the hens.

When buying chickens it is important to realize that most farmers (especially on small farms) will not sell just hens.  Our hatches are normally around 50/50 ratio of male to female chicks and sometimes the number of roosters is higher.  Typically we will sell pairs or trios.  A pair is one rooster with one hen.  A trio is one rooster with two hens.  Chicks are sold from day old and straight run normally. Straight run chicks are not sexed so you take what you get.  Chicks can be shipped at one day old because they have absorbed the yolk before hatching and that will normally sustain them for 2 -3 days.

You've heard the saying, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"!  Don't allow your pure bred chickens to range in mixed groups, for instance don't let Jubilee Orpingtons range with Phoenix and so forth.  They WILL co-mingle!  If this happens, you should not hatch their eggs for at least 14 days if you don't want crazy mixes in your chicks.  A hen will retain a rooster's sperm for around 14 days and sometimes longer.  It's necessary to have a separate coop, roost, and run for each breed to keep your pure bred chickens honest!

We keep the different breeds in separate pens with coops, roosts and runs.  We also have several large areas for them to roam.  We alternate their range days and areas.  This way everybody gets some time to roam in the really large areas.

In order to sell birds and/or ship them in most states some testing is required.  P/T testing is free and done through Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory.  NPIP is also a good thing.  This program tracks movement of birds in the state and out in an effort to prevent and stop harmful poultry diseases.  In Texas your flock needs to be registered with the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC).  This is a simple process as well.  Find out about these and how they can help you and your flock.

Last but not least, watch your chickens.  Pay attention to how they act normally.  This will help you realize when something is not quite right and can literally be a life saver for your chickens.  There are a few diseases that require a very quick response and treatment.  Coccidiosis is one such disease.  It will kill chicks very rapidly and even mature birds if not caught immediately.  It is easily cured if you are prepared.  We keep Corid on hand.  It's a medicine for Coccidiosis that is added to their drinking water daily for 7 to 14 days.  Read about Coccidiosis in order to recognize the symptoms early.  We also keep VetRX on hand for respiratory difficulties and various other ailments.  Worm your chickens regularly (several ways of doing this as well).  DO YOUR RESEARCH!  If you don't understand what you are reading, ask a "chicken person" for recommendations.  For that matter ask several and go with what you think will work best for your circumstances.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Where do you get a Henobator?

A steadfast rule in chicken farming is that it is ALWAYS better if a hen can do the hatching.  With that said, we all have to use incubators from time to time.  In the beginning of our chicken journey, I asked my online chicken friends about which incubators were best.  Several kept coming up, but one stood out among the rest.  The "Henobator" was mentioned 8 out of 10 times.  Being new to chickens, I searched all over the internet trying to find this wildly popular incubator with no luck!  I know, I know...........DUH!  It didn't take long to figure it out.  To brood or not to brood is entirely up to the hens!  This leaves many eggs that need to be incubated. On the other hand, some of the hens would go broody with one or no eggs under them.  The larger hens can easily sit on eight to ten eggs.  Since their laying stops while they sit, it just makes sense to give them more to sit on for the 21 day incubation period, thus the "Henobator"!  I had found that miraculous incubator finally!  Go ahead and laugh, I know you want to!

Our first experience with the "Henobator" was with our little Black Cochin Bantam hen, Annie.  She was constantly going broody. Time and again her eggs proved infertile and nothing would hatch. Having many Seramas, we always have plenty of Serama eggs and not always enough broody hens.  One day my husband, Willy, took a few Serama eggs and put them under Annie.  She dutifully sat for the 21 days and hatched four beautiful Serama chicks.  It made NO difference to her that their legs were not feathered and they were smaller than normal.  They were HER chicks.  She did an excellent job of raising Seramas for me.  In fact, she did such an excellent job that she has since hatched many Seramas.  

Once this "Henobator" concept kicked in, the sky was the limit.  We've had a Phoenix hen hatch Jubilee Orpington chicks when the Jubilee girls would not cooperate.  We have even had a Serama hen (determined to remain broody until she hatched SOMETHING) sit on two Belgian Maline eggs. Two of the big eggs were all she could manage, but she stepped up to the challenge and hatched two healthy Maline chicks.  Watching her, it was easy to tell what she was thinking when these big chicks hatched - "WHOSE chicks are those?"  In two weeks they were her size, but she was a faithful mother to them.  

Most recently, we had three Cochin Bantam hens go broody with no eggs.  Willy had a bunch of Guinea eggs that he was going to put in the incubator.  He took them and divided them among the three Cochin hens.  Guinea eggs have a 28 day incubation period as opposed to the 21 day period for chicks, but these little hens do not care!  Yesterday, the first of the three hatched her "chicks".  The amazing thing about this hatch is the calm demeanor of these normally "wild" keets.  They are as calm as their "mom", while the keets hatched in the incubator are very "jumpy".  

Cochin Bantam with Guinea Keets
Cochin Bantam with Guinea Keets

                                       Our feathered friends NEVER cease to amaze me!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Which Chicken?

In deciding on a chicken breed or breeds, there are many things to consider.  What are you wanting to accomplish by owning chickens?  Do you want eggs, eggs and meat, just a pet and the eggs would be a bonus, or do you possibly want a chicken that lays certain colors of eggs?  Also, you will want to consider temperament especially if you have kids or grand kids that will be around the chickens. The following information is what we have learned in our own experiences.

If eggs are the important factor, look for chickens that average 260 or more eggs per year.  Chickens that are good layers include Dominiques (one of the oldest breeds in the U.S.), Leghorns, Marans, Orpingtons, Ameraucanas and Malines to name a few.  Of the ones mentioned, we have had experience with Dominiques, Orpingtons, and Malines and all have been excellent layers with most averaging an egg a day when they are not brooding or molting (down times).  We found the Dominiques (especially the roosters) to be more aggressive towards people.  It bears mentioning however that if you just want eggs, you do not need a rooster. All chickens will have down time when they are brooding, molting and during weather extremes which effect their laying averages.

If your desire is meat and eggs, you'll need to find good dual purpose birds.  Larger birds are normally the better meat birds obviously.  Some examples of good dual purpose birds include Australorps (Australia's "national breed"), Brahmas, Dominiques, Marans, Orpingtons, and Malines to name a few.  Again our experience is with the Orpingtons, Dominiques, and Malines.  These birds are large in size at around 6 months of age.  After looking around, we found a woman that will process our birds for around $4. each.  We have several in our freezer as we speak.  The birds we have are also excellent layers.  This gives you the best of both worlds.

If you want eggs, but desire that they be certain colors (some people do) then good choices would be:
Araucanas - blue eggs, Ameraucanas - blue eggs, Easter Eggers - blue, green, rose , brown, sage, olive or cream eggs, Cream Legbar - blue eggs, Marans - deep brown eggs, Welsummers - chocolate brown eggs, and Penedesenca - dark reddish brown eggs.  I'm sure if you do your research, you will find others.  We are not so much into the color of the egg so most of ours lay cream to light brown eggs.

If a pretty chicken is what you desire with eggs just being a bonus, look for the ornamentals.  These breeds include but are not limited to Serama, Cochin Bantams, Cochins, Silkies, and Phoenix to name just a few.  Most of the bantam sized chickens lay small to medium eggs.  This group would include the Serama (very small eggs), Cochin Bantams (medium eggs) , Silkies (medium sized eggs) and Phoenix (medium sized eggs) of those mentioned. Opringtons are not an ornamental but are gorgeous birds that come in a variety of colors especially if you get into the more rare Orpingtons such as the Jubilee and Silver laced varieties.  The benefit to these birds is that they are excellent layers and good meat birds as well as pleasing to the eye.

As far as temperament goes, we have found the Orpingtons (all varieties), Silkies, Serama, Belgian Malines and the Phoenix all to have wonderful personalities and dispositions.  That's not to say that some of the others wouldn't do just as well.  These are the breeds that we have dealt with.  We won't have birds that our grand daughter (who is almost 18 months) can't be around.

We wanted it all - eggs, meat, pretty, and calm natured!  We chose Jubilee and Silver Laced Orpingtons for their eggs, meat and looks!  Jubilee Orpingtons are still considered a rare color in the Orpington family, but the Silver Laced Orpingtons are even more rare.  These are gorgeous birds with all the other qualities as well.  We also selected the Belgian Maline which is know as the "gentle giant" of chickens.  These birds are very large with a very calm demeanor.  The hens are excellent layers and mothers. As I mentioned before, temperament is also of extreme importance to us.

Silver Laced Orpington
Jubilee Orpington

Belgian Maline

 For the smaller "pretty" breeds, we chose Seramas, Silkies and Cochin Bantams.  The Seramas are the smallest breed in the world, come in a seemingly infinite combination of beautiful colors, and have a sweet confident attitude.  They are wonderful pets and show birds.  There are specialty shows for Seramas where the birds compete in Tabletop competitions which spotlight their "attitude" and type.  They look like tiny soldiers when posed!  The Silkies are a big beautiful ball of sweet fluff.  These are the chickens that girls LOVE!  They have sweet personalities, and come in a variety of colors (black, gray, lavender, blue cream, blue, splash, and paint to name a few).  These are also great show birds and pets. The Cochin Bantams also have our heart.  They are such sweet, fluffy, beautiful small chickens with feathered legs.  They always look like they are in their big footed pajamas and are great as show birds and pets.

Cochin Bantam

We have a few other breeds such as the Phoenix.  These birds are gorgeous with the roosters having long beautiful tails.  They are good layers of medium sized cream colored eggs.  They are excellent mothers as well.  We have not had any problems with them as far as temperament.  They will even come up and eat from our hands when we whistle (the sign that we are bringing treats).


As you can see - for us - just any bird would not do.  If any of these birds interest you, contact us.  We have a facebook page - The Singleton Roost and a website under construction that will be at www.TheSingletonRoost.com when completed.  We are more than happy to share any insights we have gained from raising our birds.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Farming is Almost a Lost Art

As a child I can remember my grandparents having a big garden with a little bit of everything growing in it.  They raised tomatoes, okra, peas, beans, squash, peppers, and eggplant.  We all ate from this garden as soon as it started producing each year.  As kids, we would have pea shelling contests (a trick created by my Mama B to get us to shell the peas).  Our fingers would be so sore the next day, but we would shell those peas.  My grandmother was a fantastic cook and most every Sunday (and if we were lucky also some during the week) we would get together and have lunch as a family.  My granddaddy also raised cattle and when needed they would have one processed and put in the freezer.  There was no shortage of fresh food from late spring until well into the fall.  Then we would eat off of what she had canned for the winter.

We kids would ride our bikes all over the neighborhood, which was several miles across and several miles long.  There were no worries then about being kidnapped, or worse.  We'd stay outside until almost dark.  We did not play on computers, or phones.  Our mom would call us by yelling out the front door.  We played ball, rode bikes, played "rodeo" in the pasture.  Life was good!  The neighbors chickens would come into our yard, mostly to use the restroom.  You've never lived until you find their "restroom" with your bare feet!  That's right, we went barefooted in the warm months.  We made "mud pies" and "playhouses".  The TV only had three black and white channels and it went off at midnight anyway.  There were only cartoons on Saturday mornings.

It's sad that today's kiddos are missing out on so much.  There are so many things of interest on a farm and so much to learn.  Kids today sit in the house and play video games constantly.  They need to "get out and get some sunshine" as my Mama B. would tell us to do.  They never had to tell us twice.  Staying inside was almost a punishment for us.

Most of our grand kids and nieces and nephews have grown up in cities, some of them larger cities.  They cannot wait to get here in the summer for a few days.  They typically run in and put their things away and take off to see what new pens have been built, or to explore through the Pine thicket.   They plan each year to visit again the next.  The boys actually enjoy helping Willy and Tristan work on pens and such.  The girls help with feeding the chickens and other birds and with the cooking and clean up.  They fall in and help with the chores and never seem to mind.  Then we do the fun stuff, like swimming or fishing occasionally.  We even take in a movie on occasion.

A farm is an educational experience these days.  Our dream for this farm is to eventually provide a place where kiddos can come and spend some time in the summer and learn about the almost lost art of farming.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Can't Turn Your Back on Anyone

Among our first chickens, were some Dominique chicks given to us by a friend from church.  We raised these cute little barred chicks like pets.  I would go out and sit and feed them dried meal worms from my hands.They were so friendly and would come running when I whistled.  they knew that if I whistled I was bringing treats.  They trusted me and I trusted them.  After a few months, it became clear which ones were pullets and which were cockerels.  Still they all remained very friendly and loved eating the meal worms from my hands.  Then came the dreadful day that one of my sweet and friendly roosters (now quite large) ran up and pecked my hand.  It wasn't a "love peck" either!  I told Willy and Tristan and they laughed and told me I'd probably just startled him.  I was cool with this because I loved my sweet babies.

A few days rocked on and all was well. Then, for no apparent reason, this same rooster (obviously the dominant rooster of the bunch) ran up, grabbed the skin on my hand and twisted it hard!  He PINCHED me very hard and obviously on purpose!  It seems he was trying to establish the pecking order by showing me who was at the top!  If you know me, you know this is NOT the way to get me to comply!  Now Willy and Tristan are convinced that I am doing something that irritates him.  I assure them I am doing what I have done since they were little!

The animosity between this rooster and I grew daily.  Each day he tried to make it worse than the last.  Finally, I'd had enough.  He tried to flog me (thank goodness he had no spurs yet).  The chase was on.  I chased him up and down and all around that pen until I caught him.  I picked him up, held him for a while, and we had a good talk.  I put him down expecting his compliance.  He charged me again.  I chased him, caught him, picked him up and talked again (more seriously this time).  I put him down.  Charge - Chase - Repeat!  Finally he gave up (as it turns out, it was only for that day).

My son eventually experienced the wrath of this rooster.  He gave him a not so nice nickname (which I shall not mention) and it stuck.  This rooster reached the point that he would stand at the fence and wait and watch for me.  He started warning me the instant I reached the fence and would follow all the way to the gate warning me not to enter.  WHATEVER!  That was MY pen and I was the top of the pecking order (if only I could convince him of that).

It wasn't until later (months of this disrespect actually) that we learned that Dominiques are aggressive by nature.  It wasn't me after all!  He eventually ended up being the first chicken to go in the freezer.  That's a story for another day!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Chickens Anonymous Anyone?

I've said it many times now but it could stand to be repeated again that we just wanted a few chickens for eggs and meat.  So how is it - you might ask- that we now have almost 400 birds representing different breeds and types?

Willy wanted Jubilee Orpingtons and I wanted Serama.  It was so simple then!  A church friend found out we wanted chickens and graciously gave us some Dominique chicks.  We decided these would be our egg and meat birds.  Then we visited with a cousin to see how he set his birds up.  While there, he gave us a beautiful pair of Phoenix so I could have a rooster that crowed - immediate gratification!  He also gave us a pair of Eastern Wild Turkeys.  So now we are up to Donimiques, Phoenix and turkeys - none of which were part of our original plan, but oh well!  Willy ordered his Jubilee Orpington hatching eggs and we visited a farm near Dallas to look into my Seramas.  We came home with a trio of Seramas.  Little did we know that instead of having two pullets and a cockerel, we were sold two cockerels and a pullet.  This was fine for a time - until they fully matured - and then it was not so good for the hen.  We had to build them a pen and of course I would need more so that I had enough hens. Luckily, Willy had already built a nice double coop with runs for his Orpingtons (which had not hatched yet).  This held the Phoenix and Dominiques, but soon the Orpingtons would hatch and need their pen.  We would need another pen.

Serama Grow Out Pen
I found a reputable Serama breeder in Florida and ordered two trios from him.  He gifted us a pair of Bantam Cochins in our shipment.  We of course fell in love with the Cochins!   This required the building of still more pens!  My Seramas started laying and we started hatching so their numbers grew quickly.    I needed a chicken house for the Serama which we built (well mostly Willy and Tristan)!

Lady Amherst Pheasant

My cousin called and said he was giving up his pheasants - Ringneck and Lady Amherst - and wanted us to have them.  We now had more birds! Of course we could not even think of turning away these beautiful birds! This required the building of still more pens!

Belgian Maline Hen


Meanwhile, Willy discovered Belgian Malines, the gentle giants of the chicken world.  He ordered some chicks which required a pen and coop.  Again he built a double coop/run set up!  Then a neighbor gifted me some Peacock eggs.  I was delighted because Peacocks were already on my radar.  We needed more pens!

 I think by now the pattern of Poultry Addiction is abundantly clear!  We are NOT alone in this addiction.  All of our "chicken friends" suffer the same symptoms.  We all have too many chickens, have shows to sell our chickens and buy others (the buy others is part of the problem), and we NEVER have enough pens!  Just this morning, one such friend messaged me that she had found more chicks she wanted, but with the last two necessary pens not finished at her place she might have to wait!  We "chicken friends" recently found out that there is a film coming out called - "Chicken People"!  Go figure!  There must be many more chicken addicts that we first realized.  We have tentatively set a "girls night out" to see this film.

My husband and I have committed to bringing our back to our favorite rare breeds and limited numbers of those.  How this will actually turn out remains to be seen!  I'll keep you posted.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Simply the Best

Willy, my husband of 17 years, is the type of person to commit himself to hours of research to be sure we are doing the absolute best for our farm be it the birds, pens or anything else.  Our chicken coops are insulated in the roof to keep the birds cooler in the summer and to hold heat from their heat lights in the winter.  The roost area can be completely closed in for added warmth and wind block in winter.  Under the coops and roosts is a shaded area for them to get out of the hot summer sun.  He has invented a nippler watering system that will not freeze in winter.  The chicken house for my Seramas has opening windows, a ceiling fan, a sink area, and an air conditioner.  Some of the coops in the chicken house have runs to the outside accessible through small doors which slide open from inside.  All of their outdoor pens have electricity so I can run heat lamps in the winter when we tarp the pens in for warmth.  Our chickens really do live in style.

Their feed is no exception.  We do't just give them feed out of any one bag.  We mix their food with ingredients Willy has researched and found to be of value to the chickens.  We feed our chicks Purina Medicated Chick Starter.  We have found that it is the right grind (for lack of a better word) to allow even the smaller chicks to find small enough pieces.  We still smash it for the new Serama chicks because some of them are absolutely tiny when they hatch.  The medicated feed also helps protect them against Coccidiosis which is the most common threat to chicks.

For grown chickens, we mix our feed in a 5 gallon bucket (this may take several refills).  The mix contains 2 parts BIG 5 laying crumbles (20%), 1 part BIG 5 Scratch Grains, 1 part BIG 5 Laying Pellets (20%), 1/2 cup Fast Track Probiotics, 1/4 cup Producer's Pride Minerals, 1 cup Black Oil Sunflower seeds, 1 cup whole Oats (from Tractor Supply), and 1/2 cup Crushed Oyster Shell.  They are fed this as a supplement for those that are pasture raised, and as feed for those birds that are penned.  All are also given occasional veggies, watermelon and cantaloupe.  All the birds have FRESH water daily.  We also throw scratch grains out in the open areas occasionally for an added treat, as well as hand feeding them dried meal worms several times a week.  As I said, Willy constantly researches to find what they need and be sure they get it.  We keep Corid on hand for the occasional battle with Coccidiosis (this is a must because once they have it they will die quickly if not treated), and VetRX for a multitude of other ailments.  We have vaccinated for Fowl Pox which is always worse during mosquito season.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Getting My Ducks in a Row

Many times in my life I've been told that I needed to get my "Ducks in a Row".  We added Silver Appleyard ducks to the farm last November and they are very smart as a breed. Each morning, my husband goes down to the barn area and turns our birds loose.  They all have areas that they can roam in to catch bugs, worms and eat grass.  To get to the large corral where the ducks are allowed to roam, they have to navigate through two gates which my husband opens for them each morning.  He closes these gates behind them so other birds are kept in their areas.  He then lets the ducklings out of their crib into the duck pen so that they too may "roam" a little.  Everyone has food and water at their disposal.

As the day winds down, we catch a couple of the ducklings and put them in their crib.  Then all we have to do is get the other ducks in a row and herd them towards ramp for their crib.  Instinctively one or two will take the lead and go up the ramp and into the crib with the rest of the little ones following in single file.  Then we can close them in for the night for their safety.

It's much the same process with the older ducks.  Usually around dusk they will come to the first gate and wait to be let through to their pen.  Occasionally we need to put them in the pen a little early.  This requires that one of us stays to open gates and the other one goes out into the corral and gathers the ducks by walking around behind the group and heading them for the gates.  Normally, one or two lead the way and the others then follow them to the pen.  Now I completely understand what I've been told all my life.  Everything works better when you get your "ducks in a row"!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Duckling of a Different Color

November of last year, we made the decision to add ducks to the farm.  As with the chickens, we did not want just any duck.  We settled on the Silver Appleyard ducks because they are large ducks which makes them good meat birds, and they are excellent layers. After looking around, we found our ducks.  We bought 15 ducklings to get started.  We had no idea how messy ducks are, but they are a joy to watch.  They grow incredibly fast as well.  Around five months of age, they started to get the beautiful coloring common to the Appleyards.  My husband, Willy, and our youngest son, Tristan, built a nice duck "crib" in a nicely shaded and fenced corral which would become their home.  Willy also converted some barrels into nice nest boxes in anticipation of the hens beginning to lay.

Our ducks grew into 8 magnificent drakes and 7 gorgeous hens.  We soon saw them begin to pair up with preferred partners.  We made the decision to go back where we had bought these and get another hen to make it an even 8 pair.  We now realize that you don't need pairs so much and have thinned out the drakes some.  However, when we picked up the extra hen, she gifted us a lone Silver Appleyard duckling that had hatched.  Soon we began to find our first eggs.  These eggs are "eggcellent" (sorry but I could not help myself) for baking and great for breakfast.  They are very large eggs and since our ducks are allowed to roam some, they are very rich eggs.

At last we started getting eggs from all the hens every day.  We decided to start hatching upon returning from vacation in July.  We already had some hens displaying "broody" symptoms.  However, the poor hens would attempt to brood not be able to stay on the nest due to the heat. The incubator became the obvious choice.  We set our first group of about 40 eggs in the incubator.  Unlike chicken eggs that require 21 days of incubation, duck eggs require 28 days.  Of course, we were beyond excited when they began to pip and hatch.  Patience is required here as well because it takes them a little longer to actually hatch once they pip.  Silver Appleyard ducklings, we have since learned, should be mostly yellow with a black "Mohawk" and the tip of the tail should be black as well to be considered "standard" for the breed.  Much to our surprise, we also had a few solid black ducklings, a few solid yellow and a few that were dark with yellow markings (more like a mallard duckling) along with our beautiful standard ducklings.

This has been quite the puzzle since:
No. 1 We purchased Silver Appleyard ducklings that were standard
No. 2 We have NO other ducks on the place (so no accidents)
No. 3 No other ducks (even wild) have access to our ducks

We started reading about this strange phenomenon and found that duck's colors have standard "phases".  Some ducks are "light phase", some are "dark phase" and then there is the occasional "rare phase".  Rare phase are just that - rare and treasured.  "A rare phase duck is a purebred duck with an unusual unstandardized color variation within the breed.  Rare phase ducks are hard to find, particularly because they must be purebred to be true." (quoted from backyardchickens.com)

Silver Appleyard ducks are a standard light phase duck, but they do have instances of "rare phase" associated with the breed.  The rare phase characteristic of the Silver Appleyard is that it is dark, which is noticeable as ducklings.  There are several other qualifying criteria that have to be met for these to be considered "rare phase".  These require that they mature, lay and hatch ducklings and that some of those ducklings are "standard".  It seems we have unwittingly embarked on a "wild duck chase", but we have made the decision to see this through on the chance that we have a "rare phase" on our hands.  Stay tuned for future updates.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Show Must Go On

Life around here is never dull.  A couple of weeks ago while working on our pool, Willy slipped and fell on his shoulder.  Afraid that he might have broken his collar bone, we got ready and took him on the the doctor.  X-rays showed no break, but he had slightly dislocated his clavicle joint.  With back surgery already scheduled for this week, we knew that a broken collar bone would probably have caused the surgery to be postponed.  Meanwhile with all the weather we have been having, my allergies and subsequently asthma started acting up.  Any of you who own chickens or any other farm animals know that no matter what - the show must go on!  With both Willy and I down, the farm duties all fell to Tristan (our youngest kiddo).  Without a complaint, he took over the chores of feeding, watering, releasing and putting up the almost 400 birds we have here on our little farm.  He has literally saved us this week.  During this time, we have also had numerous hatches which means extra work for him.

You never know for sure if the things you've taught your children actually "soak in" until a time comes when you need them.  We are proud of all of our kids, but lately we have had to lean heavily on Tristan and he has NOT disappointed!  On behalf of all of our birds, I want to take this opportunity to tell our son how amazed we are by him and the way he has stepped up when we needed him.   Thanks Tristan!  Without you, the show might not have gone on this week!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"Like an Old Mother Hen"

Many times since having my kids, I have been told I act like and old mother hen.  I only came to understand this comment after we started raising chickens.  My mother in law raised chickens so her family would have eggs and meat; therefore, my husband grew up accustomed to gathering eggs and dealing with the hens.  Although raised in the country, my family was more into cattle.  Both sets of grandparents raised cattle.  I was subjected to the neighbor's wandering chickens, but not in a good way (if you know what I mean).  They used our yard for a restroom and went home to lay their eggs.

When we started raising chickens, there was a lot to learn and a short time to learn it.  How many of you thought (BE HONEST) that you could just put some eggs in a nest and sit a hen on them to hatch them?  The hens get to decide when and where they will sit on a nest.  Once a hen FINALLY decides to brood (hatch eggs), even a beloved pet will turn on you in a heart beat!  She will peck you, ruffle her feathers in an attempt to intimidate you, and make you hurt yourself trying to avoid contact.  Yep, it's happened to me many times. I have sustained many minor injuries from getting too close to a hen that has suddenly decided to go broody.  I have to admit that most of the injuries came from the "knee jerk" reaction of jumping back into a door or cabinet to avoid the wrath of such a hen.   She also gives you "what for" in chicken speak and you WILL learn to speak chicken fluently and it's best not to waste time doing it.

A broody hen will sit faithfully on those eggs for 21 days and nights, only getting up to grab a bite to eat and a quick drink.  Brooding, you see, is serious business.  Often she will even pluck her under feathers to make better contact with the eggs.  She will turn the eggs a few times a day using her feet and beak.  We have learned from incubating eggs that we must turn them twice a day to prevent the yolk from attaching to the side of the egg (which in most cases will kill the chick).  We have also learned that a good temperature for our incubator is 99 degrees for hatching with a humidity of around 50%.  We also stop turning them three days out from the hatch date.  Our sweet little hens know instinctively how to do every bit of this and typically have a very high hatch rate.  If an egg is fertile, normally a good hen can hatch it.

Once her chicks begin to pip (break the shell to start the process of hatching), she will NOT leave them.  She stays until all that are going to hatch have hatched.  She gives ample time for the chicks to hatch always aware when there are still eggs under her that have not hatched.  Occasionally, if a chick goes away from the hen while others are hatching, the hen will leave the nest to care for the hatched chick(s), but normally the chicks stay there with her until she finishes.  She then takes them to find food and water.  She will find a piece of food, lay it down and call to the chicks and show it to them by touching it with her beak.  She teaches them to drink in much the same way.  This is truly and amazing process to watch.  She won't lay again until the chicks are old enough to take care of themselves.  She will protect them against all dangers including the hands that feed her!  If the chicks get cold, they call out and she will sit and let them under her to get them warm.  Chicks have to be kept at certain temperatures for the first few weeks of their life.  In the brooder we start out at 95-100 degrees for the first week and subtract 10 degrees for each week.  The mama hens listen to the chicks and warm them when necessary.

When the chicks are old enough, she instinctively starts laying again.  At this point (sometimes a little sooner), she stops "biting the hand that feeds her" and resumes normal behavior.  This process usually takes around three weeks.  The chicks are mostly feathered out by this time and know how to eat and drink on their own.

Some of our hens have even been known to double up and take turns sitting on a nest, and then share "mama" duty once the chicks hatch.  The chicks will go to either hen when she sits and be equally comfortable.  We have had this happen with several breeds.  There was one situation where a Phoenix hen hatched some chicks and we had to put her and the babies with an Orpington hen that had hurt her leg (for lack of space).  The Orpington hen soon "adopted" the chicks and helped raise them.  When the Phoenix hen was ready to leave the chicks, the Orpington took over "mama" responsibility until they could be mixed with the grown chickens.

The hens do a remarkable job of getting their babies ready for the world.  I am now honored to be referred to as "an old mother hen"!  These chicks know what they are doing!