Monday, November 25, 2013

Why Yes, I AM A Bird Brain!

and proud of it!  It's apparently an inherited trait as I am the fourth generation that I know of.  My mother, grandmother and great-grandfather all bred canaries.  My mom still does at age 82.  I love the song and variety of color/styles they come in.  Though I have published several articles on their breeding and care (that I plan to attach to this blog soon), I don't have canaries as they are pretty fragile for our family lifestyle:)

So, I have a 50 year old Mexican Red-Headed Amazon parrot named "Rex," short for "Memorex."  The bird has never said one word and I've had him/her since 1984.  Audra has a pair of Lovebirds and has apparently inherited the "Bird Brain" gene.


There will be several posts with stories about all of the above, but right now I want to write about "The Care of Backyard Chickens" because people ask me how I take care of my girls and work weird hours.


This is Penelope, a White Cochin hen who is 2.5 years old.  She stays looking like this without ever having had a water bath.  (They don't like them!)  Believe it or not, they take dirt baths and should always have a "dirt pool" available with a special mix of dirt (see below.)

I only have nine hens, so they aren't much trouble (or I should say work, they can get in plenty of trouble!)  They have minds of their own, albeit chicken minds...

First, I don't really care about the eggs.  They are a nice by-product, but the main reason I have them is because they are funny, pretty and way easier to take care of than even one dog!  I don't add extra light in the Winter to get them to produce because I want them to use their reserves for toughing out the cold.  I will turn on a regular light during the day if it's below 20 degrees to help heat their house enough for the water to not freeze.  I have an anti-freeze tray, but it's too big for the spot and gets in the way.  You could also get a waterer that doesn't freeze.  I bring the waterer into the garage at night because they don't drink in the dark.  That way I am forced to change it every morning.

Most chickens can winter just fine if they have unlimited access to water, a wind break and are kept dry.  They often snuggle at night, sometimes off the roost in piled up straw "nests" or in the nest boxes.  The worst thing you can do is shut up the coop tightly and heat it.  Heaters cause fires, and if not that, the shock of temperature changes is very hard on them if the power goes out.  Mark made an air vent pipe that runs across the top of the inside of the coop.  It has some holes in it, but they are never subjected to direct drafts.  I do shut the window, but I put up the back door for them on all but the very worst days. They don't seem to mind walking in snow.  I shut that door at dark to keep the heat in.
The coop itself is insulated just like a house and the floor is up off the ground several inches.  There are lots of photos of The Chick Inn in earlier posts if you haven't seen it.

During nice days when someone's around, we let them out of their run into the backyard.  They love running around and foraging.  I always have a waterer out there as well.

Summer care isn't all that different.  They have a shaded pen and house during the heat of the day with a fan if need be.  Clean water is always available.  They don't take water baths, so I have a big pan full of untreated topsoil mixed with fireplace ashes, diatomaceous earth and some sprinkles of poultry dust and they go to town diving into it and dust bathing.  It keeps them clean and mite free.

I feed my ladies the best food I can.  It's still cheaper than dog food!  I use an Omega-3 organic pellet that already has grit in it.  I toss oyster shell in when they are laying heavily.  I try to give them a treat everyday as that is what they live for.  I feed them plain yogurt, bagged salad greens, watermelon, pumpkin, cottage cheese, rice, cut up noodles, cereal, cheese leftover veggies and once in awhile junk food like bread, crackers, cookies, popcorn, etc.  (Shame on us, but they love it and it's rare.)  I only give a little "scratch" grain as a snack as it's fattening.  We call it "crack" around here because they love it!  We also grow apples, strawberries, pears, grapes, raspberries and peaches which we either give them or they steal.  I always give them some kind of green if they aren't able to be out of the pen that day.  I put a tablespoon per gallon of apple cider vinegar in their water because folks swear it's good for them.  Can't hurt!

These are just a few tips as I could go on for pages.  There are many books and magazines available to give you more in depth advice or you can ask me and I will try to answer your questions.

Isabella Cruella, an Appenzeller Spitzhauben and Bonnie Blue, a Cochin, braving the wind to help decorate their coop.  They are glad they aren't turkeys!


Have a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving from everyone here at the 'Creek!  Stay warm!

Gale

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