3.24.2012 Still, it’s mostly about chickens

A day to celebrate!  The chickens are back on pasture at last!  Getting them out there turned out to be such a drawn out affair.  A lot of the delay was weather related.  I can’t pull chicken tractors through tall grass, and with all the rain we’ve been getting, I’ve got nothing but tall grass these days.  So I had to wait for that rare moment when I could take the tractor out to the field and mow.  But get this, the grass was already so deep and thick around the hay barn, I couldn’t get to the bush hog.  So I had to mow around the barn with the riding mower, before I could mow the pastures with the bush hog.  The spring lush is full swing.

Anyway, after a full day of mowing, stringing electric fences and dragging chicken tractors around, all was finally ready.  After dark, Michael and Eric and I moved all the chickens out.  I had set up four chicken tractors, and I put a roo in each one – three Dorkings and one Sussex.  Each roo got a jumble of the hens.  We made no real effort to segregate them into Sussex and not Sussex like I had them in the coop.  I figured this morning there would be some arguing as the new pecking order got established.  And there was – sort of.

It was pouring down rain this morning when I opened up the tractors.  At first, the chickens were reluctant to go out and get wet, but they went, first a trickle and then a flood of chickens pouring out into the 1/3 acre enclosure.  So much sweet new grass.  They couldn’t resist. Honestly, they reminded me so much of my daughter, who, as a three year old, would roll in puddles for sheer pleasure back when we lived in Texas.  The chickens really enjoyed their shower, though there are few things that look more ridiculous than a wet chicken.  Wet cats come to mind.

The lone Sussex roo I put out there came out of his tractor and made himself invisible. The 3 Dorking roos had a scuffle which I broke up.   After that, all four roos found plenty of room to avoid each other and the hens made them work really hard for their nookie.  I pulled the tractors forward, off the night’s droppings, leaving them covering clean grass.  That was important.  Because of the mite issues in the coop, many of my hens have taken to laying on the ground.  In the coop, it wasn’t an issue.  I kept the hay on the floor clean.  Out in the pasture, I have to rely on keeping the tractors moving to keep my eggs clean, at least until I convince the girls to lay in the nest boxes again. Only about a 1/3 of the days eggs actually got laid in a nest box.  Most of the ones on the ground were clean, but a few had grass stains on them that would not wash off, rendering them unsellable, though they are perfectly fine for eating.

One of the Dorking roos in the enclosure is my breeder.  My two Dorking spares and one of my Sussex spares round out the guardians and love muffins for the laying flock.  The other spare Sussex is a fellow with an attitude problem.  He’s in solitary confinement with a standing invitation to dinner should I find the time and motivation to dress him for the occasion.  For the last two weeks, he’s been charging me every time my back was turned.  Being comparatively short, he’d run himself right into my big, clunky much boots.  No harm done, but a bad habit begun.  Yesterday, he charged me when my back wasn’t turned.  Imagine his surprise when he smacked his face right into the bottom of my big, clunky muck boot.  After a night spent sleeping on the ground, and nearly a full day without food, water or girls, his attitude had improved remarkably.  He kept a respectful distance when I rigged a roost pole for him and he practically purred when I hung a feeder in his pen.

The crop failure hen went on antibiotics on Monday, after spiking a fever and spewing green slime from her rear end.  Six days later she still shows no improvement.  Two and a half weeks of no will to live.  She’s about worn away my will to try to keep her alive.

The first batch of chicks has done very well, but got moved to the barn on Thursday after I woke up barely able to breathe.  I have a second batch on the table behind me now.  They will go out to the barn tomorrow, they are only waiting on the lone Dorking in the incubator to dry off.   83% of the Dorking eggs have been fertile, but ¾ of them abort after the first week.  Don’t know why.  So the Dorkings are back with the main flock until they grow a bit more and I can consult some breeders who might know what’s causing such a massive fail rate.

I also put the chickens on a new feed.  It’s locally grown and locally ground and it’s really fresh.  The chickens are really loving it.  I am really loving it.  It doesn’t cost as much.  They don’t eat as much.  They don’t poop as much and they make more eggs!

I did visit my bees this week.  I have a solid mass of bees across 4 frames in both the upper and lower supers.  There is capped and open brood, pollen of all colors and newly made honey.  I was hoping the colony would be near to bursting and I would be able to make a split.  But no.  It’s not that strong, and there weren’t any queen cells that would indicate the hive is thinking about swarming.  Nothing much to do, but clean up the gummy junk, lay on the queen excluder and a honey super.  Word is the honey flow really has begun, the earliest ever.  I’m going to have to visit the bees more often now – with weather like this there is no telling what the bees will do or when they will do it.

So there you have it.  Another week gone by and still, it’s mostly about chickens.

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