Monday 29 September 2014

The Price Of Eggs

By Keeping Chickens Newsletter subscriber and author Jen McGeehan

Mission Accomplished! Our set of six one-month old chicks were finally secure in our handmade chicken tractor. As I stood back, grateful to have completed the necessary repairs, it occurred to me that there is definitely a price tag attached to the eggs that will hopefully begin to appear in the next five or six months. Is it worth it?, I contemplated...

Our chick-to-chicken odyssey began shortly after my hubby, Pat, and I, moved into our new home in the mountain community of Big Bear, CA. We were so excited as our fledgling flock of four transformed from tiny moving cotton balls into fully feathered friends. In due time, the eggs, both brown and white, showed up, sometimes in a newly discovered pile under the chicken coop, sometimes in a nest inside. We loved to spend time inside their “run,” which also housed Nubian goats and a pot belly pig named Zoe. We would each pull up a white plastic chair and sit back to enjoy the “show” as they scrambled to and fro.

Over the years, attrition took its toll until we found ourselves sans hens. With our eminent move to Hawaii we decided to wait to restock the flock until we were moved and settled. 

In early 2012, after making the 2500-mile oceanic jump to the Big Island of Hawaii four months earlier, it seemed that the time had finally come to put out some feelers for chicks. Free seemed to be the best plan, due to our devastating financial situation that began in 2008 and ended four years later with the short sale of our home. We found ourselves renting our Hawaii realtor's 24' diameter yurt, complete with twelve ocean view acres and plenty of room for my 29-year old horse, Smoke, and three-year old goat, Gerdie.

One afternoon, Bernie, our nearest neighbor, presented me with seven assorted chicks, including one sporting what appeared to be a broken appendage. As Bernie carefully pulled each one out of her apron, she provided me with valuable information on how to care for them. I took it all in stride. Later that day, Pat arrived with three more tiny chicks, indicating that a friend had begged him to take them. “If you don't, the Mongoose will get them!” What else could he do?

A few days earlier, Pat had completed construction of a chicken coop in true “Gilligan's Isle” motif.

This little wonder of creativity included scavenged roadside bamboo, used chicken wire and fire hose, plus a nesting crate fashioned from particle board. Once the whole thing was tarped to protect the flock from the nightly drizzle or periodic downpour, we were set to go. But, once again, as the months flew by, we found that, try as we might, an occasional “accident” would occur and we would lose one of the “girls.”  The first “accident” occurred when we tucked them in on their very first night. Somehow, one squeaked past Pat as he attempted to shut the door, and then was hopelessly lost in the tall grass just beyond the fence line! A few days later, we were forced to send the one with the broken leg off to hen heaven. Two months later, we lost two to dog attacks. Now we were down to six...

Early one morning, we woke to a strange sound emitting from the coop. I crept out in my nightgown only to discover that our two “twins,” the blackies, were actually “he's” instead of “she's.” Pat named them the DeLuz Brothers because we lived on Antone De Luz Road. Off they went to join a flock of free-range roosters about a mile away. (Having a rooster...or two...was out of the question due to Pat's need for morning sleep – the fallout of two back surgeries that force him up for hours in the middle of the night.)

Life in our rented love yurt seemed like heaven on earth as we adjusted to living off-grid, which meant no public provided utilities. We made new friends, who quickly became “ohana,” family in Hawaiian culture, and continued to work our way out of over $600,000 in accumulated debt. It was an amazing and transforming fourteen months that led to my first published book entitled, MY YEAR IN A YURT: God's Blessings While Living In 450 Not-So-Square Feet! Then, in January 2013, we moved our four remaining “girls,” along with my now 31-year-old equine, two goats and one orange tabby, onto our new, yet 1980s-built home on the other side of the knoll.

Craigs List is big here on the Big Island! During one of my on-line shopping sprees, I located and purchased a homemade chicken tractor. I had heard about chicken tractors, how easy they are to move around your pasture while allowing the chickens to hunt and peck for blades of grass as well as tasty bugs. Ours was about eight feet long, sporting a variety of creative nooks for the chickens to hang out. It seemed the perfect place for our flock to enjoy life in sunny Paauilo, located on the Hamakua Coast.  And it all worked perfectly until...we brought Lehua home.

Lehua, at eight weeks old, was a beautiful yellow Labrador/Retriever mix; full of energy and possessing the ability to “play” with any and every moving target. Once she discovered the four remaining chickens, all hell broke loose. When the girls were out during the day, she would chase them all over the yard, sending them into our huge Ohia trees, under our cars, just about anywhere other than under one of her front paws. When we put them back into the chicken tractor at night, she eventually figured out that a quick swipe of one of her front paws provided access through the plastic mesh siding, creating four hysterical birds and more than a few flying feathers! Soon, all four girls had flown the coop, choosing instead to spend their time in greener and safer pastures, far away from one hyper puppy. We were crestfallen. The girls were gone, and the chicken tractor was in shreds!

At least eight months passed before we began to discuss our desire to try again. Lehua was older and we had completely secured one pasture with hog wire fencing. Surely the chicken tractor, and the chickens would be safe there! One day, while heading to the feed store for my monthly supply of Timothy hay, I noticed a sign on a parked truck. “Chicks for sale!” I quickly pulled a U-turn, parked, then casually strolled to the back of the truck to inspect the merchandise. Sure enough, about 18 or 20 tiny peepers were scrambling around inside a dog crate... one month old...$3.00 each. That worked for me! The nice young man helped me select six that were guaranteed to be future hens, packed them carefully into a USPS shipping box complete with air holes and a nice bed of shavings, accepted my personal check, and then sent me on my way. I was very excited, leaving Pat a voice mail message about the precious cargo I was bringing home.

When we pulled into the driveway, Pat was clearly NOT excited! “I thought we had agreed to wait to get the chicks until we repaired the chicken tractor!” he clucked. “Good point.” I replied. “I thought you wanted Buff Orpintons,” he said, in an exasperated tone of voice. “I did, but these were cheap and I just couldn't pass them up,” I responded. “Great. Now we have Roy Orbisons instead of Buff Orpintons,” he said with a smirk as he marched off!

After a bit of effort, we utilized a large box as temporary housing for the peepers. But, the big challenge was keeping them safe from Lehua. After spending a few days and nights in the back of Pat's truck, I knew I had to get that chicken tractor repaired. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the tractor had the ability to enclose the chicks in the raised nesting box section. That would work until I was able to fix the broken plastic mesh sides. One week later, after a 200-mile round trip to Home Depot, I had the correct siding in hand. As I stood in the pasture preparing to make the repairs, Pat offered his “suggestions,” which, interestingly enough, were not jiving with my repair plans. Somewhat exasperated, he finally left to handle his own list of to-dos. At that moment, and a bit flustered, I picked up the heavy duty staple gun to set my first staple. Paying absolutely NO attention to the bright red arrow indicating where the staple would exit the gun, I promptly sent it into the palm of my left hand. OMG! For a split second, I stared at the completely flat staple, pain registering all the way up my arm. I dropped the gun, yanked out the staple, and then made a bee-line for the house as the blood began to seep from the two tiny holes. Did I really just do that to myself? What a complete idiot, I thought. Good thing I had a Tetanus shot just two weeks earlier. No coincidences. Thank you, Jesus!

After a good washing of my hands, a bit of Neosporin and a band-aid, I was back in the pasture ready to continue the necessary repairs. It then began to drizzle! Okay, that won't stop me! Two hours later, I was finally able to raise the door separating the nesting boxes from the rest of the tractor housing, encouraging each chick to investigate her expanded world. Lehua eyeballed the entire procedure from outside the pasture. It all worked perfectly as the girls cautiously maneuvered between the containers of fresh water and chicken starter.

I finally stood back to survey the scene, thinking to myself, Is all this worth the price of eggs? Many would say, “Absolutely not! Just buy them at the grocery store!” Pat and I would have to disagree. Our animals fill the void created from moving away from family and friends to a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They provide hours of entertainment if we stop long enough to become a spectator of their antics. And, nothing beats the taste of fresh eggs - sunny side up, scrambled, or hard boiled.

You can read more about Jen McGeehan's adventure of leaving the fast lane of life in Southern California to the slower paced lifestyle of Hawaii in MY YEAR IN A YURT: God's Blessings While Living In 450 Not-So-SquareFeet! (including two really fun stories specifically about the chickens). The country-wide real estate and banking collapse of 2008 sent millions of American families into financial ruin. Many hung on for dear life, believing the market would correct itself within a year or two. By 2010, no correction was in sight. In My Year In A Yurt, author Jen McGeehan tells the true story of how she and hubby, Pat, filled a 40-foot Matson container, shipped their two vehicles, and, along with her twenty-nine year old equine and three-year old goat, flew the friendly skies in search of a simpler way of life. Their enormous debt of over $600,000.00 came as invisible baggage, as did the painful memory of handing their realtor the keys to their 3,000 square-foot home after three and a half years on the non-existent real estate market. As foreclosure and bankrupcy - additional unwanted travel companions - reared their ugly heads, Jen sent yet another urgent prayer to heaven asking for God's divine intervention...

Thursday 11 September 2014

The Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle - Bonus Offer

There is currently a bundle sale going on which includes resources on topics like Alternative Health & Home Remedies, Healthy Children, Real Food Recipes, Gardening and Homesteading, Meal Budgeting and planning, Special Diets, Green Cleaning, Natural Beauty and Skincare, Fitness and more.

But it is only on for a few more days until 11:59pm EST on Monday, September 15

There are four books specifically related to keeping chickens :

The Healthy Chicken Cookbook‘ By Lisa Steele - Recipes for your chickens!
Oh Lardy’s Guide To Keeping Backyard Chickens‘ by Kelly Liston and Tamara Mannelly - perfect for beginners and those just getting started with chickens.
'Natural Homestead' by Jill Winger - Remedies that have been used on humble homesteads, backyard gardens, and small farms for decades.
The Urban Chicken‘ by Heather Harris - Covers pretty much everything from chick to table (including how to tell who is laying and who is lying - with photos)

You'll also find ebooks on herbal remedies, gardening, real food recipes, special diets (paleo, gluten free, diabetic etc.) and several ecourses such as one for natural childbirth and another for Essential Oils & Natural Health - both of which usually retail for $95 each.

I am also offering a bonus book of your choice from books I have published for those who purchase the bundle through my link. You can see details of my Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle Bonus Offer Here

Saturday 15 March 2014

The day the chickens stopped singing

By Deborah Lyman

I had several ideas of what I wanted to do when I retired from the military.  One was to have a hobby farm and raise chickens as well as Nigerian Dwarf Goats and miniature cattle.  Well I did get a cow, Dolly, but she is a year old, small, but not miniature, jersey heifer.  Spoiled rotten and I am not sure if she thinks she is a cow, goat or human.  The only one she will let eat with her is Sinbad a withered little Nigerian Dwarf/Pigmy cross.  Everyone else best leave Dollies food alone and relinquish theirs if she wants it.   

I know this is a chicken story so on to them.   I started with several different types of chickens.  I would order hatching eggs off eBay and enjoy watching them hatch and see the beautiful colors of the different chicks.  They would start one color and I would guess almost daily what they would look like when they grew up.  I had so many different color chickens.  It may have been because I love the babies so started incubating eggs and would keep eggs going most of the time so each month I would have a batch.  

I would gather white, brown, chocolate color, dark olive green, light blue, light green and even pinkish eggs.  They would give me anything from 6 to 12 eggs a day.  As the winter moved in I expected to get none.  But not my girls they would still give 3 to 8 eggs a day most days.  I would suspect that the fact that I spoiled them and kept heat lamps on for them might have helped.  

One rooster I called pterodactyl (spelled funny but pronounced Terodactyl).  His feathers just above his eyes would stand up (think his mom was the polish) and his feathers were such odd bluish color kind of dark gray with a line running down center from base to tip.  He just looked like a dinosaur something from a prehistoric movie.  Then a few had the coloration of pheasants, some white and some black.  There were even a few red hens thrown in.  I love a very colorful laying flock.

One incident I had with one chicken was a young full size polish hen.  It was feeding time and she was very pushy.  She ended up with a broken leg from being stepped on by Dolly the “little” heifer.  She took several months to heal and she moved into a small coop that was inhabited by a bantam Cochin hen and a Mille Fleur d'Uccle Bantam.  She just walked right in (or hop/walked) to the pen while I was feeding one night and refused to leave.  The three were great together.

Little Ms. Cochin and Mr. D’Uccle were mates.  I did not know that they would bond as closely as they did.  It was the strangest thing ever. The two would never leave each others side more than a yard or two.  If in different pens they would get as close as possible and just sit there until put back together.   Little Ms. Cochin would sit and raise anything and any number of eggs that she could cover when she was as flat as she could make herself.  I never saw a small hen make herself so flat. Lol Mr. d’Uccle was rescued as a very young bird.  He was a little crippled thing when he came to me.  Ms. Cochin took him in as her mate almost immediately.  The D’Uccle could not roost because he had crippled feet but he would be right there under the roost.  He loved it when Ms. Cochin would sit on eggs he would snuggle next to her and help incubate them.  Once the bittys hatched he would even let the little ones use him as a fill in mother when they wanted.  He would be sitting in the pen and suddenly a chick would pop its head out of his back from under his wing.  It was a shock the first time but soon became a common occurrence.

I started getting the Sablepoot/Booted Bantams because I thought I could start raising pure breed chickens.  I kept them separate from the others and it probably was good since the roosters did not like sharing their barn yard.  There would be several “rooster talks” through the chicken wire almost daily.  I soon started incubating the Sablepoot eggs too and at first I forgot to mark them so the hatching time was always surprising.  Of course not all of the little ones will be the color that they are when they grow up so the guessing was on again.  

The pure breed Booted Bantams could not be found in the local area so I would have them shipped.  It took over a year but I had finally acquired a pair of black, pair of blue, trio of porcelain, two trios of mille fleur, and a quad of white and trio of Golden Neck Booted Bantams late in the fall.  I was even contacted by a gentleman in Puerto Rico that wanted to buy my entire last hatch of Sablepoots and have them shipped to him.  I was very excited with the turn of events.

The year before in the spring I was all set to take a hen and rooster to the fair for the chicken show.  So I contacted the state Vet and talked to them about getting certified NPIP.  The lady I talked to basically told me that there was not any reason to worry about it because if I took them to a show they would be checked there.  Well that sounded funny but ok I don’t know everything so I was all ready to go to the show.  NO, that was not meant to be.  The chickens had other ideas.  The rooster somehow ripped off his toe nail (yep blood everywhere) and the hen started molting (feathers everywhere).  All in one night so I figured they had no interest in going to the fair. LOL Well summer and fall came and went as I kept incubating and getting really cool looking chicks from all the mixes.

I decided to get a few of the large hens to sell in the spring once they started to lay eggs.  So I filled the incubator some more to build up the girls so they would lay about the time the price for hens would be good. I had two batches of chicks hatch and I actually had one turn out Silky.  I had not had Silky hens and roosters since I first started and then decided to find them a home so the winter would not kill them with the cold.  I was so excited.  

The group of booted bantams had a buyer and the two batches of full size bittys would be laying in the spring so would go for a good price.  My hobby farm would be doing better.  The chickens might even pay for their chicken feed.  It was really looking like my farm would get off its feet.

Then the other foot came crashing down……. I had several chickens come down with colds and figured it was the changing weather.  Shoot most of us get colds right?  Well soon I had a few that had infected sinus and they would require all but minor surgery to clean the large swollen pockets on the side of their face out on almost a daily basis.  Some took a few days, some never recovered and then others took several months to either heal or pass away.  It was getting so sad.  The last to go this way was a little hen that fought for months and was finally looking like she was kicking the infection.  She just keeled over one night and I found her the next morning.

I started to think about everything that had been happening in the last several months and realized my hatch rate had gone from 80-90% down to less than 25%, and when I lost two roosters on the same night (one was Mr. D’Uccle the mate to the little Ms. Cochin and the other one was the only Golden Neck Booted bantam rooster). I took the two to the vet and asked for him to tell me what the heck it was.  He sent the two roosters to be necropsies at the university. 

In two days my Vet told me that some of the tests came back and the roosters had coccidiosis and I was a little upset but it is something that can be managed.  I started the coccidiosis treatments right away.  

While walking around a store with my mom, cousin and aunt my cell phone rings.  I got the news-----the worse possible news---- they had Mycoplasma Gallisepticum AND Mycoplasma Synovia.   I did not know at the time what those were but I sure do now.  My hope that this illness was going to be a fixable illness died when my local vet said I needed to talk to the government vet.  Which I did right away while the rest of the family continued to shop.

I don’t remember much of the first conversation I had with the State/Federal Vet, but what I do remember was that he used the word eradicate and I did not hear much after that.  The next discussions we had were a lot more coherent and productive.  We talked about any options of keeping any of the birds alive.  I had two batches of babies that had not seen or been in contact with the other chickens.  My little Silky, and all the other babies - the youngest were only a month old.  When I did the research on the diseases I was devastated when I saw the words “horizontally transmitted through eggs” and the only guaranteed method of eradication of the disease was the destruction of the flock.  I corresponded several times as well as talked on the phone but to no avail.  There was no way to save any of the birds.  So the date was set for the people to come out and destroy my babies.  

Taking care of them each day knowing what was going to happen was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.  I was almost in tears most of the time.  The night before THE day I had to lock the animals in the shed/barn after dark so that the chickens would not be out. The chickens were not happy when they woke to find they were not able to free range.  When I went to let the goats and cow out the chickens tried to rush the door.  It reminded me of something out of a very bad horror movie involving flesh eating chickens or something. At the appointed time they arrived.  I had already told the government vet I would not be able to stay.  He said he understood.  The group of people that showed up with the Vet were nice people and I got the impression they understood I was having a hard time with the situation.  They asked a few questions and had me sign some papers, and then I left.  My neighbor, Dan, stayed in case they needed anything.   Dan later told me the people were not cruel at all to the birds.  They carried the birds like I would and not by their legs.  He said he thought they really seemed to care about the birds and tried to cause as little trauma to the babies as possible.  Not that a situation with strangers dressed in white suits catching them could be totally without stress.

When I came home the first thing I remember was the lack of chicken sounds.  What I remember about my return is that was the day the chickens stopped singing.  

The moral of this very long sad story is to never take anything for granted.  Get the flock tested, when in doubt check it out and NEVER buy birds or eggs from a non-certified flock.  Ideally keep a closed flock.


The above experience is from Keeping Chickens Newsletter subscriber Deborah Lyman "The last month has caused me a lot of heartache and in a lot of ways I could have stopped it but........ Like everyone else I felt the devastating things only happened to the other guy.  By sharing this experience I hope to stop others from suffering the heartache I have had the last few weeks."