Friday, January 30, 2009

New Babies!

Note to Self: As a Chicken Addict in need of a 12 Step Program, never go to a Chicken Sale.

Last Saturday was the annual Pacific Poultry Show in Stockton, CA. I have missed this show for one reason or another for the last 3 years. This year it was marked on the calendar WAY in advance. I was able to coerce Farmer Jeff into attending as well as the new Executive Director of Sonoma County Farm Trails, Lyndie. We both came prepared with dog and cat carriers to haul our new babies back home. I went armed with my list of chosen breeds and I don't know if Lyndie knew what she wanted ahead of time.

Lyndie had heard about the sale building at the show. She had also heard, via the chicken chat-rooms (see what I mean about the 12 step program?), that you needed to get there early in order to buy the "good chickens" because they tended to "run out". DANG...CAN'T run out of chickens!!! That really put fear in my heart. The show opened at 8:30, so we had better get there at 8! You have to understand that I am not a morning girl. I struggle if I have to be up before 7:30. On this morning, I was out of bed at 5:04, had the bed made (another miracle) and was dressed by 5:15, ready to hit the road. Farmer Jeff was stunned and then a little smug. I knew I had blown it. No longer could I tell him I was physically incapable of rising with the sun. Sigh...

We arrived at the show around 8:15am only to find the sale building opened at 7 AM!!! Farmer Jeff parked the car for us so we could run in and start making deals. While parking the car, he observed a couple of chickens that had "gotten away" and were being chased down by their new owners. I was tickled...and I really mean TICKLED to see people walking around carrying their new chickens much like we imagine wanna-be starlets carry their chihuahuas in Beverly Hills. It really has made me rethink taking the chickens with me when I go visit people, but that is another story.

The excitement in the air of the sale building was like static electricity on panty hose, which was really something considering that the majority of the population was cold and wearing denim. There is something I just can't explain about how cool chickens are. They are like miniature, feathered live dinosaurs. I have attributed reptilian intelligence to them, but is that really an oxymoron? Don't they both have brains the size of peas?

I found a woman selling Silkie bantams out of a trailer. (Psst...Hey lady...wanna see some chickens? Rare colors?) Okay...I was suckered in. I bought a Silkie with "Splash" coloring (Blue and white spotted) and then a "Champagne" colored Silkie (has a little blue and copper/buff). (see them pictured above in the garden.)Then I went back into the bldg. and found a little female Mille Fleur Belgian Booted D'Uccle.

Now it was time to look for the breeds on the list. I looked up and down the aisles, especially looking for Spanish Penedescenca hens. They are known for laying VERY dark eggs, even darker than Marans. I didn't see anything I was looking for ...and then a man walked in with a carrier and unloaded a breeding trio of Silver Speckled Hamburgs. SCORE!!! I was, however, confronted with a problem. I really just wanted female egg layers, not a rooster. I was explaining, in my liberal white guilt voice just exactly why I wanted the Hamburgs. "They are listed on the American Livestock Breed Conservancy list and are considered endangered"...and then I knew I really looked dumb. I could practically "hear" the breeder thinking, "great, she thinks she is going to save the breed without a rooster. This I gotta see". This is when I ran outside to talk to Farmer Jeff and see if we could PRETTY PLEASE get another rooster? Actually, he was much easier to convince and we have made the decision to breed them! We already have a lean-to built next to the main coop where we could start a breeding nursery and the Silkies are supposed to be WONDERFUL mommies.

Not to leave you guessing, we have started with the naming of the birds. The little female Mille Fleur is now named Caterina to be the mate to our Mille Fleur rooster Lorenzo (deMedici). The little Splash hen is now Madison (named after the mermaid in the movie Splash, and the little Champagne hen is ...Bubbles.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Wishes and Dreams do come True

...I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I know that Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. is grinning from ear to ear.
Happy Birthday! You are getting one helluva birthday party!

Monday, January 12, 2009

House Calls and the Greenhouse Begins

Over the last few years of owning chickens, I guess I have become known as the person to call with chicken questions. Yes, I know, I should expect it, especially when I refer to myself as Chicken Mama!

Yesterday I received a call from a friend that was looking after her daughter's chicken flock and assorted menagerie, including cats, dogs, bunnies and goats. One of the red sex link hens had been attacked by something a few days ago and they had guessed one of the little pigmy goats had been overly rambunctious with it. My friend wanted me to come and see whether or not we should "send the hen to chicken heaven". She didn't have any idea exactly where the chicken was injured other than a gash to its face, but she knew it couldn't stand up on its own.

I was greeted at the house by one of the several dogs, a couple of friendly kitties and then the pale, little chirping sounds of the wounded hen. She was in a large chicken cage flopping around and looked quite pitiful! There was food in the cage as well as water, but she didn't look like she had been able to maneuver well enough to get any of it. I carefully reached into the cage, slipped my hand under her rib cage and put my other hand on her back, then lifted her out into the sunshine. There were no chairs or boxes to sit on in the immediate vicinity, so I plopped onto the ground and started examining her.

First I checked her feet, then legs, then hip joints, all the while trying to feel if something was broken. I am embarrassed to admit that my experience with the bone structure is really "kitchen" based,i.e., I am a chef and more accustomed to dealing with chickens ready for the pot, if you know what I mean...dead.

The search of her legs didn't reveal anything, so I began checking the top of her wings, once again reflecting on all of the chicken wings I have eaten...and then lifted up her wings and examined the bottom side. Eureka! I found it! The right "elbow" was scabbed over but she couldn't move it. If she can't move her wing, she can't balance herself and she can't stand up. Ah Ha!

Now that the mystery was solved I commenced giving her sustenance. My friend filled a cup of water to the brim and I tipped it up to the chicken, lifting it up until her beak dipped into it. For the next 10 minutes she continued to dip her beak, tilt back her head (all chickens do this when they drink) and then dip back into the water. Before I gave her water she could barely keep her eyes open. I think she was really dehydrated.

Once she had gotten her fill of water I put her into a cat carrier with a towel bunched like a cat nest and then a bath towel rolled up. Onto this I set the chicken. It allowed her to be upright, not have to balance, and now she could eat. She chirped at me in approval. We filled a little egg carton torn down to 4 squares, and filled it with the feed. She was furiously pecking away at the feed and did until I left, a few minutes later.

I talked to her "mom" today and found out that she was able to stand up a little today to eat and was "talking" up a storm. It is always nice to be able to help!

Eastside Farm Greenhouse Construction Begins!

Farmer Jeff has been dreaming of a greenhouse for several years. At first he thought he would place one near the front fence, then thought of putting one at the back of the yard. After walking back and forth from the garage, where our seedling come alive, to the back of the yard, the first location at the front made a lot more sense!

Over a year ago we bought "discarded" windows. Where do you buy these? At the city dump, of course! The scariest words that I ever hear from Farmer Jeff? "Guess what I bought at the dump"! Shudder...but I have to admit that he has never brought home something that we didn't use! Farmer Jeff has drawn up plans based on the windows he bought.

When the restaurant remodeled its "back area", the redwood fence paneling was pulled out and replaced with other fencing material. Farmer Jeff pounced on the redwood and brought it home in the truck before anyone else took it! We had talked about building a really nice dog house with redwood, but the greenhouse won out.

Today Farmer Jeff measured out the space, dug some foundation trenches and we went to buy the lumber. I felt very much like a cowboy/construction worker as I sashayed through the parking lot in my shorts, gardening hat, clogs and cell phone swinging from my hip ala six-shooter. I was tough. Let's add to this lovely outfit: gloves. Farmer Jeff had picked out a set of gloves for me to wear. They just happened to be thermal snow gloves. I really looked like a dork, but held on to the feeling that I looked cool. I just pray nobody snapped a picture!

More to come on the greenhouse!

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Chicken List

Thank you, Goatgirl of Life Beyond the Sidewalks, for asking to see my chicken list.

One of the many thoughtful gifts I received this Christmas was a copy of the book, The Complete Encyclopedia of Chickens. I have all kinds of books on chickens, but this is the first one that went so far as to state, "...every standard breed tends to have its particular physical features demanding specific care...chickens with feathers on their feet are less fanatic diggers...frizzle-feathered breeds have a problem with rain". Concluding, "...all breeds, types and sizes have their own specific features, making the birds either suited or not to your situation and requirements. Hmmmmmmmmmm...

We have a very random selection of chickens. We inherited a flock of 13 which included several Ameraucanas, offspring of Ameraucanas, a booted Belgian bantam, and a black sex-link. We started buying the odd chicken as we would see them: a Chinese Langshan (Ling-ling), 2 Brabanters (Sid and Nancy for the mohawk of feathers), a pair of black Astrolorps (Bruce and Sheila), 2 Jersey Giants (Porgy and Bess), 2 barred Plymouth Rocks (Laverne and Shirley), 2 Silver-laced Wyandottes (BeBe and CeCe). Then we started buying Ameraucanas because they lay pale green and sometimes blue eggs, but then I think they are called Easter Egger Ameraucanas. Next came 8 Marans hens (the "s" is silent in that name) because they lay dark brown eggs.

I never really took into consideration what breeds would be best suited for our environment. It is rainy in fall, winter, and spring and hotter than blazes in the summer. We do get below freezing, so I need to think about having a rooster with a delicate comb (there is always the vaseline trick). Sometimes there is mud when we haven't replenished the redwood bark down in the pen before a rain and some chicken breeds are well suited to that environment.

The criteria for my ideal chicken:
good layers - we only have birds for egg laying...NOT EATING!!!
not too broody - I just learned they don't lay while "brooding"!
hardiness - MUST be hearty, able to handle cold and rain
behavior - an ideal is the Ameraucana - well adaptable to confinement or free range; mostly calm, non-aggressive
eating habits - economical

First I looked at Henderson's chicken breed chart. I read through the 60 listed breeds and, using the above criteria, came up with a list. Then I looked at the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy list of chickens. They have them categorized in the following groups: Critical, Threatened, Watch, Recovering, Study. Naturally I want to get chickens that are both on my list from Hendersons', and then in the critical category according to the Breeds Conservancy.

My list:

*Critical - Campine, Delaware (our Salmon Faverolle are in this group)
*Threatened - Sussex (our Langshan is in this category)
*Watch - Hamburg, New Hampshire (our breeds on the watch list are Brahma, Cochin, *Jersey Giant, and Sebright)
*Recovering - I don't have any in this group on my wish list, but we already have Astrolorp, a non-industrial brown leghorn, a non-industrial Plymouth Rock, a couple Rhode Island Reds, and the Wyandottes.

I never tire of learning more about chickens, and they never cease to amuse and delight me, even when I am cleaning out the coop!

P.S. Faverolles are considered the Poodle of the chicken world! I think of them as kittens!


Friday, January 02, 2009

American Livestock Breeds Conservancy

Bully, the bantam Brahma hen, and Eric, the bantam Sebright rooster.

Birds of a feather flock together, but when you get chicken owners talking, oh, brother...hang on. We chicken folks are like...I was going to say Knitters, but really we are enthusiasts bordering on the fanatic. Having chickens in your care just ads to the quality of life. I LOVE it!!!

One of my many bird friends told me about the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Their mission statement: Ensuring the future of agriculture through genetic conservation and the promotion of endangered breeds of livestock and poultry.

You can't beat that! With that in mind, I have gone through the list and cross checked it against my other chicken breed guide from Ithaca University, ICYouSee Handy-Dandy Chicken Chart. Hey, I didn't name it. I look at this handy guide frequently when I have questions about breed characteristics.

The reason for coming up with a list of chicken breeds that are both hearty AND on the conservancy list? A field trip to the Pacific Poultry Breeders Association's Show in Stockton on January 24th! Farmer Jeff just let out a nervous chuckle when I showed him my list. Only yesterday he told me that he thought we were at capacity for chickens. Is there such a thing?

I have heard many times from the Eastside Farm Chronicle readers: MORE talk about Chickens!!! One of my New Year resolutions is to blog more about...chickens!

Happy New Year!!!

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