Thursday, June 30, 2016

Chicks Hatched the Easy Way

30 plus years of raising chickens on my own and repeatedly I am reminded of just how inexperienced I am as I try and do more myself. For instance we lost three chicks the third week in June while I learned about proper coops for raising chicks in.  We have never had a hen who was seriously interest. Oh we have had sit on for a week and loose interest. Smash part of the eggs and smathering yolk and poo all over the others while attempting to set. But never a really broody hen. I chalk that up to the choice of hatcheries we have used since most breed broodiness out of their flocks. Also the breeds I have bought are not particularly broody anyway.

This year though we have had four hens set. Three hens setting at  the same time. Hence the steep learning curve. Previously this spring, calm, sweet Honey-Butter did just fine in the small white coop raising her brood. Five hatched and four made it to the turn them out to free-range stage. We later lost one adolescent hen, the only hen, to a kit fox because she refused to go into the large coop at night but that was no fault of the 'hatch your own project'. 

 I thought the little white coop was going to work out great, then came Up Tight Mamma, another Easter Egger hen. When the chicks arrived she turned into a Tasmanian Devil of beating wings, pecking beak, and gouging spurs every time I opened the door to fill the waterer and feed dishes. She just annoyed me as she sent food and water flying but her chicks stressed out. They screamed and scattered in all directions flipping out Up Tight Momma even worse. It was a disaster.

Chicks began to go missing. We were perplexed. Then during one of her tirades we discovered that the chicks could sneak under a spot in the white coop and scoot out into barn cat territory. Yum, yum for them. Fixed that and another chick went missing. We found out that the entire run only kept Up Tight Momma in because the chicks could pop in and out the chicken wire unimpaired. After the third chick was missing I tried to move the whole crew to a rabbit cage in the chicken coop. The wire mesh in the cage was much smaller but Up Tight Mamma just would not settle down creating continual havoc.

Directly above this cage was another hen who had hatched out her babies the day I put Up Tight Momma below her so I gave the traumatized chicks to the Australorp hen. She excepted them as her own but Up Tight Mamma was having none of that. She continued to scream for her babies. They of course tried to get back to her. One found a unsecure spot in the old wire cage and fell down four feet to Up Tight Mamma. I fixed the hole and put the chick  back. Then I gave some eggs to Up Tight Mamma to quiet her and hopefully get her to set all over again. I figured I could always raise her babies on my own. Up Tight Momma sat quiet on the eggs for part of a day and then decided she had been there done that and wasn't ready to do it again so soon. It was okay because this gave her chicks time to settle in with their new family. I felt no loss of the use of 6 eggs as they had done their job. 

We will soon move the Australorp hen and the six chicks to the metal coop. The four chicks in that coop are quite feathered out  and will go into the larger white coop. They won't slip out by the same methods as the babies as they are too large. But first we have some baby proofing to do on the metal coop. When I saw a baby chick pop through the chicken wire, I took one of them over to the metal coop and checked out the channel iron. Sure enough it could slip through it too. No problem for the Austrolorp hen that had set and hatched in the coop previously because she was calm and kept her little ones close by. I now know not every hen will be like her and Honey-Butter. 

Yes, we have lost some chicks this year. One or two will not hatch properly and die. Normally I save these chicks when I incubate as I've become good at helping them hatch without helping too much. The hatching process builds needed muscle strength but the point is to allow hens to do the process on their own. One or two eggs will be infertile I've learned. One will develop part way and for reasons unknown to me stop developing. This brings the eight eggs I put under the hen down to five or six chicks that grow alongside momma. One might get trampled or some other disaster happen to them but I still feel the costs of letting the hens do the work is far less.   

The incubator requires electricity. The chicks hatched require heat lamps. When hatched by the hens I don't need any additional heat in the summer, only in early spring for short periods of time to insure it is warm enough for the chicks to come out from under their mommas to eat and drink. I did this with the first momma hen in early spring putting the heat lamp on at night. I am not feeding 25 chicks and so the feed costs are lower. The momma hen teaches the chicks to forage in the run and so they quickly learn to scrounge up part of their own food. Yes, I can't just order hens from a hatchery. that gives me roosters that need to go into the stew pot but that isn't a bad thing.

My hope is to get enough desirable hens each year to replace a few older hens thus keeping the flock with a mixture of ages. Of the first four only one was a hen and the fox ate her. The next batch of four I am not sure of. The last two batches combined to make six are still pretty tiny. I hope to have four hen chicks to put back into the flock each year if not six. This would keep my flock at a steady two years old. Hopefully some of the eggs that hatch will be hens from the mommas that are setters. That would perpetuate the broody genetics. Yearling hens lay more eggs than two year olds but the two year olds lay larger eggs. The older hens have more of a tendency to set also.

I like the idea of hatching our own chicks because if I do not, I have to order 25 chicks as is the requirement of the hatcheries. Then the costs goes wa....y up. I have fallen in love with the Easter Eggers and they don't carry those in any of our local stores so there is no way to pick up just a few chicks. I also like the Austrolorps but the hatchery the stores buy from breeds out the broody trait. So you can see it is do it myself or do without the quality I desire.

The one hen that hatched out in the rabbit cages did quite well so I will try that again. It is plenty warm in the coop at night so I don't need additional heat and the cage wire is a much smaller pattern than the chicken wire. Besides the cages are empty this time of year as the rabbits are all outside. Double duty for the same equipment is not a bad idea. I do have to do a simple modification of putting cardboard on the bottom of the cages and place some pine shavings inside but that is no problem as cardboard is easy to come by.

Yes, I will definitely do this again and keep my broody hens. I have bought leg bands to mark the chickens but won't need them yet as I plan in time on reducing my flock to just Austrolorps and Easter-Eggers anyway. The two breeds will end up cross-breeding but that could be a good thing as there are traits from both that really appeal to me. Since  this year I don't think I will get enough hens for replacements a few Rhode Island Reds might make the cut. I've grown rather fond of Henny Penney who visits me while I milk and she has a red companion that frequently visits also. She drinks nicely with our cat Duke but her friend has a tendency to be notty. Her future is less certain.  











Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Configuring a goat pen set up.

It is essential that one spend some serious thought on how to set up their dairy goat pens. It makes life dealing with goats so much, much more pleasant. My design may not suit your situations because of number of goats, buildings, or land challenges. Each location has its challenges and its benefits. Number one concern should be drainage. Who wants muddy udders that are likely to get infected. Who wants sickness due to laying and standing always in the wet.

In the previous place we had goats the soil was extreme clay. It was a slippery, muddy mess when moisture came. We chose a pen area that nobody wanted. It slanted in two directions forming a V. Others chose flat areas and their animals bogged down in the mud when the heavy rains came while our pens formed a little ditch draining off the moisture leaving our area dry before anyone else's.  Level is not always best.

Our current soil is sandy and rocky, meaning good drainage. In this situation we can enjoy a fairly level pen area.  There were existing buildings, the loafing shed and barn, on the north side of the property. Hence we needed to add pens and new buildings in that area. The problem is this area of the property typically is 3 to 4 feet under snow the entire winter. We would have built to the south putting the house more north. The septic tank is south of the house meaning nothing can be built on top of it as it must be maintained and hopefully never dug up but one never knows.

Just in case you don't call building like this a loafing shed.  It is the structure in the back of the picture attached to the barn. It would have been nice to have the first small pen just off the barn but alas, that is not how the previous owners set things up. They had no stock. Our land also has the challenge of only a portion of it is on a fairly flat area and the rest steeply off to the west. Obviously constructing a building on the steep slope is not a reasonable thing to do. Nor on the south side which has the fruit trees and septic tank.  Also we need an area out of the heavy snow to park our trailers. That means the south side of the property. That will be done after we move the small rock wall. Not an easy task. We are  going to put in another garden on the south side next to the fruit trees but one thing at a time. The other garden is on the north end of the place west of the barn. We over doubled the size of the existing garden in this area.  


Had we constructed the whole place ourselves we would have done things a little differently but thankfully we don't have to start from scratch. I don't want to have to build a house, loafing shed, and barn. So taking what we have we have we make changes that are the best option in the present situation. That meant making the part of the loafing shed they had enclosed into a chicken coop. Just not another location on the place would work and not be expensive.  This is a good spot in that it is protected and stays warm in the winter but it blocks the side door off the barn. Since we don't use the barn a great deal to house the stock because Kirk makes a lot of noise when he uses the trip hammers inside it will have to do. We do have one pen there to put a doe that is kidding. This location has the wonderful kid warming barrel. I knew we would have to eventually build a run off of this coop and we did need it already since the fox came to feast but it is still a ways down the to do list.
The end of the loafing shed we enclosed and built two goat stalls with rubber mat floors to ensure easy clean up and it keeps the cold from seeping up from the ground in the winter. A foot from the top of the stall doors it is open to allow air flow. The area in the middle that is open so the goats can come out of their pens and it is a nice spot to get out of the weather. The hay rack fits next to one of the stalls and in this area it is protected from the wind that will send hay sailing on a blustery day.
The small pen area off the goat sheds has baby fencing on the bottom, just stiff wire closure together that allows us to confine a new mother and her offspring while giving them a little leg room. She is near the other goats who are in the larger pen. It also allows me to keep the goats in this area while I put hay in the rack. It is not fun hauling a wheelbarrow of hay through six goats to get it to the feeder especially when you are trying to open and shut gates. In the above picture you can see where the t-posts end and there is an opening which will have a gate in the future when we buy one. Kirk can't build them all. The t-post will be replaced with a wood post that the small garden like gate and a larger gate will attach to.
 
The building on the left is a shed we brought in and it holds our empty bee hives in the back, feed in trash barrels and small livestock equipment such as halters. It also has a milking stanchion and of course is where we milk. There is a small run area that the  goat to be milked comes into before entering the building. Love this run as I clip hooves in this spot. When we have wilder stock, I can push them into this small run and get ahold of them without a merry chase around a large pen. If I need to doctor an animal in this run they go so I'm not dealing with very friendly and not helpful companions. Ever given a shot while trying to hold on to a goat and fend off everyone else wanting attention? Not fun. Having stock is far more enjoyable when the set up is efficient. Had a run like this in the last place we lived and I find it extremely handy.
 
To the rear of the loafing shed is a run that leads to the hay yard. Wish this all was on the south side of the property so there was less snow but eventually their will be a door at the end of this run that goes into a hay shed and off it to a hay yard. This eliminates at least one wall of fence to keep the deer out. The deer hate this small run so they do not enter to get into the hay yard. 
The small run opens to the small goat pen which sits next to the larger goat pen to the north. Next to the larger goat pen and east,  you can see the buck' pen. This pen is handy in that the does and bucks are next to each other. This makes determining what doe is in heat much easier as I watch their behavior. No, I don't have a problem with the two mixing probably because of the mellow temperament of all my animals. This is intentional. This also makes it easy to slip a doe into the run and then into the buck's pen or just stick a buck and a doe in the run to be bred. No great distance to fight a buck or doe with one thing on their mind.
 
The larger pen where the hay rack is L's off to the north and leads to the pasture. This pasture is where our calf's shed is. There is a wonderful tree in the pasture next to the garden. Hate the roots in the garden but it does allow animals in the pasture and in the pen to gain shade from the hot sun. I currently rotate who goes to pasture with our calf, Sam. One day it is the does and the next the bucks. I put the bucks into the large pen where the does where before and then I do not have to fill their waterer or hay feeder in the summer time. The hay feeder is next to the hay yard but to fill the waterer I have to go through a couple gates. All our stock is locked up tight at night as we have lots of predators.
 
Once again the bucks and does are across the fence and I can observe behavior. This winter will be a problem though since this pen fills up with snow. Last winter we had very little snow. I need to build another pen and shed in the pasture just south of Sam's shed. Then this pen could also serve as another doe pen or a bum calf or lamb pen in the summer.
The L shaped larger pen will be made wider as I extend my raspberries further west and south into the old garden. This year we should have a bumper crop of raspberries so that project is on hold for a couple years.

We have decided to increase the number of does we keep for milking. Our goal is to try and meet the requirements for ag and gain a tax break on our land and a tax write off.  We have to look into this further. We are also looking for added income during retirement. Maybe not a lot but every little bit would help. We are doing this anyway we would just do it a little bit more commercially. Increasing our livestock numbers slightly may require a few changes to our design.
 
We put in temporary gates at first and as the design has been changed and developed, we have been slowly making fencing more permanent with wood posts.
 
Do any of you have something in your corral design that you would never want to do without? We love the small run off the milking shed and the baby fenced small pen off the loafing shed stalls.