Monday, March 31, 2014

Chicks at 2 weeks

Growin' Like Weeds.  No one has names except the runts.  There are two and I call them both Little Runty.  This Little Runty (mid picture) is pint-sized.  He or she is chowing down nonetheless and seems healthy.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Chicks At a Few Days Old

They got the hang of the waterer.  I touched each one's beak to the nipple to get a drop of water the first day before I put them into the brooder.

Sleep is good anywhere.  Lying down, standing up, or leaning.

The "sleep lean" was preferred by this chick.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Chicks Arrive Tomorrow!

Tomorrow Jason and I will be bringing home a peeping box of 28 straight run (boys and girls) chicks. We are going to drive out to Polk Ohio to pick up my order from Meyer Hatchery.  Last year I ordered chicks from Meyer Hatchery for Garden Dreams and I was pleased with them.  We plan to keep some (not all!) of the pullets (hens) from this batch for eggs at our house.   They will be a mix of breeds: Wyandotte, White Rock, Partridge Rock, Delaware, Dominique, and Easter Egger.

I learned a lot raising up a batch of chicks last year, and I figured out some things to do differently. 

Brooder Setup
I set up the brooder space in a narrow room off the basement.  Cardboard walls and floors, pine shavings for litter.  I have partitioned off a smaller area for them for the first bit so they don't wander too far from the heat source, but I can remove it as soon as they need more room.  Ambient temperature stays about 20 degrees warmer than outside, so at night it is getting down to around 40 degrees.  

Brooder Stuffs
I set the brooder up with the essentials: 
  • Chick Starter from Hiland Naturals.  I picked this up from Serenity Hill Farms in Cheswick, which I recommend as a great source for pastured meat, eggs, and gmo-free or soy-free feed.  I have an additional feeder should this not be enough space around the feeder.
  • Waterer (see next picture).
  • Heat Source(s).  Jason and I fashioned the metal hover from a galvanized tub and a 250 watt heat lamp.  We cut a hole for the lamp to shine through but not large enough for it to fall through.  The galvanized tub doesn't get hot, greatly reducing the risk of fire should the thing fall onto the litter.  It is secured with strong chain to it does NOT fall because it could trap the chicks underneath and roast them with too much heat.  As it hangs, they can scoot under when they need a warm up and come out to eat and drink and be merry.  
  • Chick Grit to help them grind and digest their feed.
Bucket Nipple Poultry Waterer
I like nipple waterers.  Jason and I made two last year with screw in nipples on the bottom of 2 gal buckets.  The chickens peck at the nipple and it releases drops of water.  It keeps the water clean, and they can't roost on top of the waterer and poop in their drinking water.  When you start chicks on them right from the start, they really get the hang of it quick.  The pain was, since the nipples were on the bottom of the bucket, you couldn't set it down to refill the water.  I found this design online with nipples on the side.  A bit pricey, but worth it.  Aquabarrel makes them from recycled food-grade buckets.  
Chick Grit
I learned last year that if I don't anchor down the grit container, the chicks will dump it out with all their jumping around.  This one is hooked on wire that is attached to the pallet (that is behind the cardboard).
EcoGlow Heater
This little yellow sucker is made by a company in the UK.  It supplies radiant heat to the chicks when they scoot underneath, like they would a mother hen.  It's made for 20 chicks but I find it did very well for 15 if the room is on the colder side.  So, it won't work for the 28 that are coming, but will be a fine backup and additional heat source.  The manufacturer says it is not effective if ambient temperature is below 50 degrees F but I think it will be fine since it is an extra heater.

Getting the heat right
To find the right height to hang the hover, I placed a digital thermometer at "chick height" about 3" above the floor, directly under the 250 watt heat lamp, aiming for a temperature of around 92 - 95 degrees F.  The room is cold, so they need to all be able to huddle under here and warm up.  I'll drop the temperature weekly by about 5 degrees.

Ambient Room Temperature =  50 degrees F during the day when it's 30 degrees F outside

Will post pictures soon of the fuzzy things!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Fermented Chicken Feed: Less waste, More fun.

Chickens munching on their fermented feed.  They didn't waste a morsel.
The hens of Garden Dreams have wasted a lot of feed until now.  We have a galvanized hanging feeder which cuts down on waste but they are still able to get their beaks in and bill out feed bits left and right, spraying them around the coop, until they get to the morsel they want.   So, I went on a search for ways to cut down on feed waste.  I happened upon this blog post  from Natural Chicken Keeping.  Fermented feed, huh?  Great for little chicken insides with lots of friendly bacteria and so delicious they don't waste it?  Sounds great.  So, I tried it.  And so far, I like it.  The method I have used so far, following advice from the blog post above....

1) Get a food grade 5 gallon bucket.
2) Throw in some feed.
3) Cover with water, and then add some more water for good measure.
4) Cover with a lid for lactic fermentation.
5) Let it alone for a few days at room temperature or a bit warmer.
6) I started feeding it the day after I started the soaking.  It was already a little bubbly and bread-y smelling, but it takes a few days of soaking to really get going.  I just scooped some out, let most of the water drain into the bucket and fed in a few heavy bowls.  They went nuts and cleaned up every bit.
7) Figure out a feeding schedule...this is the part to work on now.  Up until now they have had free choice feed.  I know about how much they eat daily, so I'll just start feeding them this amount of fermented feed (x 2 to account for all the water soaked up) in the mornings and see how it goes.

So far, I am liking this idea.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Pittsburgh Steel Mill Workers from The Farm Security Administration

I went on a "search bar tangent" while looking at pictures of old chicken coops on The Farm Security Administration's website at The Library of Congress ( and ended up perusing these photos of steel mill workers.   Many of the photos documenting the mills are from the early 1940s, with the apparent intent of pumping the public up about the importance of manufacturing steel stuff for the war.  I found these portraits from 1938 more interesting. Click on the captions to link to the Library of Congress archives.

Steel Worker in Pittsburgh Steel Mill 1938

Steel Worker in Pittsburgh Steel Mill  1938

Steel Worker in Pittsburgh Steel Mill 1938

Steel Worker in Pittsburgh Steel Mill 1938

Steel Worker in Pittsburgh Steel Mill 1938

Steel Worker at Rolling Mill, Pittsburgh PA 1938

Steel Mill, Pittsburgh PA 1938

Molten Steel 1942

Steel Mill Worker at Rolling Mill, Pittsburgh PA 1938

Steel Mill Worker at Rolling Mill, Pittsburgh, PA 1938
Steel Mill, Pittsburgh PA 1938
Today, with the Mon Valley Works Edgar Thompson Plant right up the road from us, steel is still rolling out of Braddock, PA.  From the United States Steel Corporation's website "Mon Valley Works is an integrated steelmaking operation that includes four separate facilities: Clairton Plant, Edgar Thomson Plant, Irvin Plant and Fairless Plant.  Edgar Thomson Plant, located about 10 miles southeast of Pittsburgh in Braddock, Pa., is where basic steel production takes place at Mon Valley Works. Raw materials are combined in blast furnaces to produce liquid iron, which is then refined to create steel. Steel slabs from the facility are sent by rail to the nearby Irvin Plant in West Mifflin, Pa., where they are rolled into a number of different sheet products that serve customers in the appliance, automotive, metal building and home construction industries. Mon Valley Works has an annual raw steel production capability of 2.9 million net tons."

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Herbal Preventative Wormers for Backyard Chickens

Molly's Herbals Preventative Wormer Herb Mixes

Drinking kefir with herbs.  

Drinking kefir with herbs

Today I gave the chickens their weekly "herbal supplements".  There is usually great excitement about this because the herbs are delivered in yogurt or kefir,  and they love yogurt and kefir !

Healthy chickens spend time scratching around and eating bugs.  It's what they love to do.  Sometimes they ingest soil that has worm eggs in it or insects or slugs that are hosts to various worms, so unfortunately, chickens getting worms is not completely uncommon.  This time of year I'm guessing they are less likely to get them than warm months but I'm sure it happens.  I'd like to avoid wormy chickens, so last year I spent time looking for was to prevent worms (besides the obvious keeping them in the best health possible).  

At a Garden Dreams we grow wormwood, but since I'm not an herbalist and you need to be really careful with doses of wormwood,  I did some research last year to find someone that makes preventative herbal wormers.  I found Molly's Herbals, which I've used for about 9 months .  The idea is the wormwood blend is only given every 8 weeks, with another blend being given weekly until the next wormwood dose.  They are meant to be used year-round, and the bags I ordered seem like they will last quite a while.  These herbal blends make the inside of your chickens a place where worms just don't want to be, and they make a quick exit if they are present.  

My feeding strategy is 2 rough tablespoons herb blend per 10 hens mixed with yogurt or kefir which they just love.  It's just a once a week treat for them .  I have to make sure the girls at the bottom of the pecking order get some as it becomes a free for all when the dish of "medicine" is set down. 

My Favorite Pizza Dough Recipe

When you are ready to use the dough, take it out of the fridge and turn the oven on to 475 degrees F with a pizza stone preheating in it.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces.  Flour a work surface and pat out the dough with your fingertips into a pizza-shape.  Let rest 5 or 10 minutes and then roll with a rolling pin from the center outwards.

Make dimples with your fingertips in the crust to avoid air bubbles while baking.  Brush with olive oil and top with toppings.  Slide onto pizza stone (sprinkle w flour or cornmeal right before sliding on pizza).  Bake for 12 minutes.  I don't have a pizza peel so I use parchment paper on top of a wooden cutting board with flour dustings to roll out the dough and then slide onto the stone.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Eggs and Frick Park

Courtesy of the Hens of Garden Dreams

Frick Park in the sunshine

Ida practices her camouflage techniques