Sunday, May 29, 2011

The nursery is occupied: Redux!

So when Milo made his big debut in February of 2010, we blogged about how the nursery was finally occupied. Well Milo has some new neighbors upstairs and we have a new birth to announce--our baby chickens!!! I traveled to Williamstown, VT on Friday to pick up our little ladies...persevering in the face of intense rains, high winds, and flooding (was actually detoured at one point because of a fallen tree and water over the road). We have had record rainfall here in Burlington and I was really worried that I wouldn't be able to pick them up on time--but I made it and there they were in their little carrying box, all cute and fuzzy and LOUD. They peeped and cheeped the whole way home. On the one hand, it was reassuring. I figured if they had the energy to belt it out, they were in pretty good shape. On the other hand, it was incredibly distracting and disconcerting to have a live box of really noisy animals next to you in the front seat while driving 65 mph on I-89. (Okay, so I was really going 75 because I was so worried one was going to die in transit and wanted to get home before the fateful moment.)

So far (knock on wood), they have proven much more resilient than I expected. I was convinced they were all going to keel over one after the other, like sad, slow bowling pins being knocked over by a Coccidiosis bowling ball. (One of my weaker--yet most dramatic!--metaphors) But they survived the trip home, eventful as it was, and have made it through the first 48 hours.

We've had three cases of pasty butt but nothing a Q-tip soaked in warm water and some Vaseline couldn't fix. They seem to like their brooder and are especially fond of kicking fresh litter into their water dish. I'm offering positive reinforcement...complimenting them on every few minutes that pass without the offending litter making its way into the water...but my approach doesn't seem to be working. I might have to implement the time-out rule soon. They also like preening themselves, pecking at the spots of color in the newspaper under their litter, and sleeping in positions that make me think they're dead. Think face down, arms/wings flat out, shallow hard-to-detect breathing. They do this a lot. I think they may actually be hot. The brooder is a steady 95 degrees which the books say is the right temperature for chicks this age but their body language seems to suggest otherwise. So we might raise the heat lamp a bit. Also, for those of you out there with partners who spend an inordinate amount of money on drum equipment that doesn't possibly look like it's worth the amount that shows up on your credit card bill, take heart. A drum boom makes a lovely heat lamp holder. Yay for making me feel better about the original cost of said drum boom.

Here are some pics. of our babes. Oh, and I almost forgot the most important detail--their names! The three Buff Orps are named Sophia, Rose, and Dot. Get it? Hint: The chicks are golden. Our four light Brahmas are named Billie, Ella, Nina, and Carmen. Any guesses as to the back story there? Feel free to post in the Comments section with your best guesses.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Shelburne Farms chicken workshop!

Ryan and I had the best day today. Shelburne Farms offers a "backyard layers" workshop for folks interested in raising chickens and it was a blast. Sam Smith, a super engaging and knowledgeable farmer, lead the session and had us laughing the entire time. His impression of a chicken finding a worm and trying desperately to simultaneously show it off and protect it from flock mates was one of the funnier things I have seen in awhile. Anyway, we learned a lot (did you know both kelp and oyster shells are great for chickens?), met some other cool self-professed "chicken people," and were even introduced to the ladies of the Shelburne Farms production flock (read: designed to lay lots of eggs) and education flock (read: a ragtag bunch of hens of various shapes, sizes, ages, and breeds). One of the best parts was that the production flock was almost 100% Buff Orps. After reading about them for so long, being able to pet one was lovely. They really enjoyed pecking at Ryan's shoelaces so we made a note to buy some rubber gardening boots ASAP.

Some additional (random) chicken facts: The more an egg "stands up" when you crack it, the better the quality. Hens are better behaved when there is a rooster in the mix. Hens do their best laying when they're between 6 months-2 years but some can live as long as 10+ years. Molting (when they lose their feathers) looks gross but is perfectly normal; a hen generally stops laying after she molts. [Correction: Hens decrease their laying rate after molting...but don't stop completely--woohoo!]

Here are some pics. of our day!


So as alluded to in a previous post, we are in fact entering the exciting yet somewhat daunting world of backyard chicken raising. Ryan has *always* wanted chickens. I have an unnatural fear of their little feet as well as a complete inability to handle death. For those two reasons, I have stemmed the tide that is Ryan's begging...until this year. No more excuses. We have the land, we have the right (we're zoned agricultural/rural so no codes or laws to worry about), we have the time (sort of), and now we have what I see as a good enough reason to overcome my two fears...Milo. Ryan feels strongly (and has convinced me) that it is a great thing to raise a kiddo around animals. We have the dogs but it's not really the same thing. Ryan's dad's family has been in the dairy business for many years. In fact, his uncle Pat currently runs the family's organic dairy farm in Enosburg Falls on--wait for it--Hayes Farm Rd. Ryan spent many a day at the family farm growing up and even lived there for a short period of time when he was in elementary school. (See picture below; compliments of

He has fond memories of visiting the dairy barn and talking to the cows. He has helped in the "processing" of turkeys. He has seen both the beginning and end of life of many an animal and, as a result, has a much deeper understanding of where our food comes from than many people do. (Perhaps that explains why he is a vegetarian and has been for many years.)

Anyway, after our 1000th conversation about this and his desire to give Milo a sense of where our food comes from (or at least our eggs) and the responsibility of farm-like chores, I acquiesced. And I have to say that I'm glad I did. We eat a lot of eggs. Lately, that is one of the only foods Milo eats consistently. And I love the idea of our little homestead being somewhat self-sustaining...producing veggies (post on our raised beds to come!), fruit (our cherry tree and apple trees are blossoming and our raspberry bushes are kicking butt!), and now eggs. And you know how I adore a good research project. The house is finished, the kid was birthed, so now onto something new...chickens.

I have spent a lot of time (okay, way too much time) scouring the forums at It's a fantastic resource for anyone interested in chicken raising. I also spent a lot of time (okay, way too much time) researching coop designs. After extensive reading and deliberating, we decided on the Garden Coop, an awesome design created by a super cool guy out in Portland, Oregon. In addition to the affordable plans (only $20), you receive online support...from him! I have emailed him twice now with questions and he has responded within 24 hours. Talk about customer service. Plus, the blog he has created is chock full of helpful hints and tips. I could not be more happy with our purchase and have been prosthelytizing about it ever since I hit the "buy" button on his website. Check out this awesomeness. (Photos from the Garden Coop website)

We purchased all of our materials over the past two weekends and Ryan has been busy in the basement putting the thing together. We are sanding and staining (using an eco-friendly product, Vermont Natural Coatings, so as to avoid putting anything toxic near the chickens) this weekend and will hopefully site the thing next week so we can start wrapping it in hardware cloth. We have our little brooder all ready upstairs because our baby chicks arrive next Friday, May 27th!!!

As for our chicks, we ordered them from Farm N' Country store in Williamstown, VT. They, in turn, order from Ideal Hatcheries. We picked three Buff Orpingtons and four Light Brahmas. According to everything we have read, both breeds are supposed to be incredibly docile and good with kids. One book called the Brahmas the Buddhist monks and the Buff Orps the golden retrievers of chickens. Monks and golden retrievers sound about right to us. And they're both large breeds so they do well in cold weather and produce eggs at a good clip. Here is a pic. of the two breeds, Buff Orp first and then Brahma.

Our coop can hold up to eight and we were hoping for more like the store said to order seven. (Working hard to suppress my fear-of-death anxiety.) Ryan promised he would deal with any chicken losses and agreed that we would give them a proper burial if it was to come to pass...rather than cut their head off and throw the body in the compost pile as at least one website suggested. Ryan also assured me, quite matter of factly, that if/when chickens are attacked by predators, there is rarely any evidence left behind. Goodness I hope I'm ready for this.