Saturday, June 30, 2012

Easy Herbed Deviled Eggs - Three Ways

I love deviled eggs. They're easy, nutritious and a wonderful way to highlight the wonderful flavors of both our fresh eggs from the chickens and fresh herbs from the garden.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Our New Saxony Ducklings - Cuteness Overload

Welcome to the world little ones!

We have had five Saxony duck eggs incubating in our incubator for the last 28 days.  (Follow along with our daily updates to The Great Eggscape HERE.)  Today was Hatch Day and this little one didn't disappoint.  Arrived right on schedule.

We have our brooder (AKA the bathtub) all ready to transfer the ducklings to once they dry off and rest a bit. 

Four more eggs to go...they can take up to 48 hours to hatch after the first pip, so this could be a long drawn out process.

Here's a short video clip of this first little one emerging into the world:

Several hours later...two more ducklings have gotten out of their shells...

 and the final two eggs have pipped....ooops and one just hatched.  So four new ducklings...

just waiting for the last egg to hatch.

This will make the third 100% successful hatch we've had in our Brinsea Mini Advance incubator.  I can't recommend it enough. 

(Buy yours at and use the coupon code FRESH for 10% off.)

And HERE is a link to basic duckling care.

Update: Nine short weeks later and the ducklings are almost full-grown.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Water Water Everywhere...the Hanging Chicken Ware Canteen Waterer

Clean, fresh water is the single most important thing you can provide your chickens for their health and welfare. Important in the summer of course, a constant water supply is also equally important during the cold months.

In the winter, care must be taken to ensure that the water doesn't freeze, and warm water on a cold day is always appreciated.  In the summer, ice cubes added to the water are equally appreciated.

Laying hens drink more water than roosters and non laying hens.  An egg is made up of up to 85% water, with water being drawn from the hen's body, so she needs to replenish that water on a daily basis, as well as drink enough to sustain her needs.

A rough estimate is that each hen will drink 16 ounces of water per day as a bare minimum.  Water should be provided at all times during the day. At night, its your choice. I don't leave any feed or water in the coop as a general rule, although I do leave water in the coop in the summer on the hottest nights.

Since we also have ducks, we not only can't use the traditional chicken waterers because they aren't deep enough, we also have to accept that the water tubs will always be full of mud and feed. Oddly enough, the chickens don't seem to mind a little dirt or feed in the water and it certainly isn't going to hurt them. (Fecal matter is another story however.) 

I think I've tried every type of waterer on the market. I had to stop using the metal waterers because I add apple cider vinegar to the water (ratio: 1T ACV/1gal water) a few times a week and the metal waterers always start to rust.

(Note: the apple cider vinegar - raw unfiltered with the 'mother' such as Bragg's - is great for their immune systems, guards against bad bacteria and maintains digestive health in the intestines by regulating the pH levels and is an overal health booster. It increases calcium absorption so your chickens will get more 'bang for the buck' from the eggshells or oyster shell you provide them. ACV aso acts as an antiseptic by killing the germs that cause respiratory problems - which chickens are extremely susceptible to - in the throat. It also helps to keep the water algae-free especially in the summer.)

The plastic waterers crack in the winter. The shallow dishes were working okay for awhile but the ducks mess them up too quickly and also like to stand in them.

I have found the best option for our mixed flock is the large black rubber tubs that are sold at Tractor Supply Company.
Tractor Supply Company

They are durable, quick to clean/refill and inexpensive. It's easy to put a block of ice or a frozen water bottle in them in the summer, and if I set them in the sun in the winter, the black rubber absorbs the sun's heat and they seem to stay unfrozen a lot longer than other types of waterers.

In the winter I also plug in an electric heated dog water bowl that works really well.

Regardless, I have found that whatever you use for water ultimately turns into the chicken equivalent of a 'water fountain' or coffee machine in an office. The chickens and ducks cluster around and alternate taking drinks, while they cluck contentedly.  Drinking seems to be a community activity.

 For this reason I caution against using any type of chicken' nipple' waterer.  I have seen several tutorials on making them recently.  Originally designed for rabbits and hamsters, the nipple waterers do have the advantage of staying clean thereby alleviating several trips to the run to clean them, but just because they make it easy on you doesn't mean they are best for your flock. They severely limit access to the water, especially to those chickens low in the pecking order. There is a very good chance that you will end up with dehydrated hens if you use them.  They also bar the chickens from taking a long satisfying drink or cleaning out their nostrils of caked feed.

No matter how many you put around the run, you will find that your chickens all want to drink from the SAME one at the SAME time (sort of like the nesting box syndrome) and that you run the risk of some not getting enough water.  I can't stress enough the importance of the availability of water.

Besides the obvious issues of overheating and dehydrating, going without water for just a few hours can curtail egg production sharply.  For this reason, easy access to water for your whole flock is a necessity. I don't believe they get that with the nipple waterers.

Even with the four large rubber tubs I keep filled in the run, I still wanted to provide additional water, especially as the summer is starting to heat up, that I could try and keep clean.  That search is what led me to the Farmers Market Hanging Chicken Canteen made by Ware Manufacturing Inc.

Its a great compact size - it holds 16 ounces - and hooks right onto the side of the run. It will attach to chain link, chicken wire, 1" hardware cloth and even 1/2" hardware cloth.  It's super convenient to fill, refill or move. It's also great for growing pullets because you can keep raising it as they grow. 

The one disadvantage is not being able to add the apple cider vinegar to the water since its galvanized steel, but since these are supplemental waterers anyway and I only add the ACV a couple of times a week, I'm okay with that.

I received my Canteen Waterer yesterday, eagerly filled it with water and positioned it in the run.

I watched as three of my hens immediately clustered around to sip the cool clean water. They refused to hold still for a photo, but my diva Magda was more than willing.

She even offered to demonstrate how easy it is to get a drink.
Others were soon curious and came by to check it out.

At the end of the day, having topped it off a few times, the water was still crystal clear. Voila! A simple solution to clean water for the chickens that the ducks don't seem interested in and the chickens can't kick straw and dirt into.  I personally think the chickens prefer the taste of the 'dirt water', but at least now they have a choice.

I highly recommend this waterer. I am going to buy several more to place around the run in the shade and also put one in the coop at night hanging from the vent that's covered with 1/2" hardware cloth. has the best price I could find for the Canteen Waterers, eligible for free shipping with a minimum $25 order.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Flock Hurricane Preparedness

The calm before the storm
It seems that the weather is getting more extreme year to year, and hurricanes and tornadoes are popping up all over the place. We hear storm warnings all the time and they usually turn out to be nothing, but last summer we got hit with Hurricane Irene and I realized just how unprepared I was to handle severe weather when it came to protecting our backyard flock. 

Here in Southeast Virginia, our biggest threat is hurricanes, but they often spawn tornadoes in their wake. The advice here goes for not only hurricanes and tornadoes, but also blizzards if you live in the northern climates.

We have our hurricane preparedness kit in the house with flashlights, batteries, canned food, bottled water, a battery-operated radio and such, but we really didn't have anything prepared when it came to the animals.

Flying debris, flooding and high winds that could blow your coop over are all concerns when a hurricane or tornado is predicted. Also not being able to get to the feed store for several days for feed because of blocked roads or power outages, injuries that may need to be taken care of and a lack of electricity to power your well are also of major concern. Plan now so if a storm is headed your way you will be ready.

We first heard the warnings that Hurricane Irene was changing course and heading right for us in the early evening last August. With visions of the opening scene from The Wizard of Oz running through my head, I ran down to the barn.

~stock photo~ 

First, I let the chickens out of the coop and left all the windows open. Barn and coop windows and doors should be open during storms involving high winds to let the air flow through and hopefully not lift up the structure. Our coop is not very large or heavy and just stands on cement blocks so it could blow over or be lifted by heavy winds very easily. 

(One note: conventional wisdom dictates that larger animals, horses, cows, etc. should be let free during storms because they have a better chance running loose than in stalls where they could be crushed if the barn collapses, but chickens are so small and light that they would blow away too easily, so barring a direct tornado hit to your 'bunker' they will be far safer 'cooped up' in a sturdy structure.)

I decided that the chickens would be safer for the time being out in the run/paddock area while I prepared a hurricane shelter for them. Since it was already getting dark, they immediately sought the high ground and roosted on top of the run fence.

I decided the safest place for them to weather the storm would be in the tack room of our barn. There is only one small window and the room is raised about a foot above ground level, so no worries of flooding. I put down a plastic tarp to try and keep the floor as clean as possible and then set up some temporary roosts for the chickens using wooden ladders.

I set out feed (enough for several days) and water and then filled as many buckets as I could find with fresh clean water in case we lost power to our well or I wasn't able to get back down for a day or so.

I filled some tubs and baskets with straw and fake eggs so they would know where to lay their eggs. 

I gathered all my first aid supplies and made sure they were handy in case of any injuries due to the unfamiliar surroundings. You want to be prepared for lacerations in case of a broken window or trampling due to panic. 

One product I always keep on hand is Bach Rescue Remedy for Pets. It is a homeopathic liquid that eases stress and calms not only chickens, but also cats and dogs, in times of anxiety, illness or injury.

As I was getting everything ready, I caught a few curious girls watching my preparations through the window! (I cut a piece of plywood and anchored it over the window to prevent the window breaking.)

When everything was set up, I ushered our little flock to their new temporary quarters. By now it was dark and they were noticeably nervous with the wind starting to pick up considerably and it had already started raining.

They were understandably confused at first, 

but a fresh bale of straw kept them busy and their minds occupied. 

I turned off the lights and shut the door securely, confident that they were as safe as they could be. The hurricane hit overnight and raged all the next day. The following evening I was able to safely get down to the barn during a lull in the wind and driving rain to check on things. I opened to tack room door to find quite a mess (we had the ducks to thank mainly for that!) but everyone was fine. 

And a few had even laid eggs in one of the baskets. 

I refreshed feeders and waterers and tossed some sunflower seeds in the straw. I was worried about pecking issues with them all being in such a small space for a prolonged period of time so the sunflower seeds would keep them busy.

It ended up being two full days before I could safely let everyone out and back into their run. We suffered only minor damage and lost only two trees, so I was grateful for that.

The tack room needed a thorough cleaning, but I was able to drag most of the mess outside on the tarp, which I hosed down and let dry in the sun.

After this experience, I know that I will be far more prepared in the future for impending weather. Here is my flock hurricane preparedness list:

1) Fully stocked first aid kit

2) Plastic tarps

3) Buckets and barrels filled with water

4) Feed to last at least three weeks (through the duration of the storm and to allow for the possibility that feed stores won't be open or accessible to delivery trucks during the cleanup)

5) Several bales of straw

6) Treats including sunflower seeds and other things that can be scattered for them to find to keep them busy and prevent pecking issues

7) A safe, dry (preferably windowless) area - could be a garage, mud room, basement, barn stall, etc.

A lack of proper planning could result in losses or injury to your flock, so take some time to figure out what your storm preparedness plan might entail.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cock-A-Doodle....Roo? 10 Ways to Sex your Chicks

~Pink eggs are hens, blue eggs are roosters? Unfortunately it's not that easy!~

One question we get asked fairly often on our Facebook page is 'Is this a hen or a rooster?' with an accompanying photo of a chick. Generally, that's not an easy question to answer.

Of course you can always just guess. You've got a 50/50 chance at getting it right. Hatcheries have professional chick sexers who get it right more than 90% of the time, but for us backyard enthusiasts, chick vent sexing just isn't something we can do. You can easily injure a chick if you don't know what you are doing, so that's best left to the professionals.

I personally don't feel confident that I've guessed correctly until I either hear a crow (starting at around 10-12 weeks usually) or see an egg (starting at around 18+ weeks), but there are some who claim its possible to sex chicks using old-timers' methods. Here are some of the more popular ways:
Some say that rounded eggs are hens and pointy, football-shaped eggs are roosters. I don't know that this has been scientifically proven, but if you have a choice and want hens, I say pick out the round eggs to hatch.
It is said that setting your incubator temperature half a degree lower will result in hatching hens, while setting it half a degree higher will result in more roosters.

Wing sexing can only be done within the first 48 hours of when the chick hatches. Hens' wing feathers are two different lengths while roosters' are the same length.


Fairly early on, little roosters' combs will be larger and pinker than hens'. Even at six weeks old, in both photos you can clearly see the hen's comb (on the left) is much smaller and paler than her brother's (on the right).

Roosters' legs will begin to thicken fairly early on. Some breeds will begin to grow tiny spurs on the back of each leg to help you identify your little roosters.

Conventional wisdom says if you wave a hat above the chicks and then drop it, the hens will squat or run and hide while the roosters will stand alert and even look up at the sky. My results were inconclusive with this test. One future roo did approach the hat, but the test was mostly met with indifference by the rest.

 It is said that if you rub a penny along the back of a chick and then toss it, if it comes up heads, that means you have a rooster, tails you have a hen. I did this test a few times on each chick and it came up randomly heads and tails, so I don't put too much stock in this method. Besides, the chicks just kept trying to eat the penny.

I have read that if you set down two bowls, one filled with 8 ounces of plain water and one filled with 8 ounces of water and a teaspoon of white vinegar, the roosters will go for the plain water, and the pullets will choose the vinegar/water mix.  I tried this. They all went for the vinegar water.  So much for that test.

I had been told by more than a few people that if you put a gold ring on a string and hold it above a chick, it will start to move on its own accord - in a circle if its a hen and in a straight line if its a roo. I do believe this works.  The ring definitely circled over some of my chicks and moved in a straight line over others.  At that point I wasn't sure which were pullet and which were roosters, but the ring definitely made its choice.

~two pullets (hens) with rounded saddle feathers~

~two roosters with long, pointed saddle feathers~

By around 8 to 10 weeks old, chicks will start getting pronounced saddle feathers (saddle feathers are where the back meets the tail). Hens' saddle feathers will be rounded while roosters' saddle feathers will be long and pointy.

And there you have it - ten ways to attempt to sex your chicks.

General behavior is also often an indicator. Roosters just seem to 'strut their stuff', even at a young age, bump chests and just 'look' more masculine. They often feather out more slowly but their feathers are more colorful. Hens are often smaller, daintier and have feminine features.

I hope these methods of trying to figure out if you've got roosters or hens will help you with your next batch of chicks. If nothing else, they're fun to try.

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