Dusty Hot Springs

For all of the generous well-wishers who read about the neighbor-fracas and are probably wondering, the hens are doing great! (Patrick says “They’re not hens yet, they’re pullets.”) They’re about nine weeks old now, and growing steadily. I can’t believe how much they’ve grown in just the last two weeks.

We got the fencing up around their yard a couple weeks ago and they absolutely love it. It is a pretty great yard. They hang out under the giant rosemary (Tuscan Blue, I found out yesterday at the farmer’s market), which provides them the cover they crave—and need—to avoid hawks and just generally to keep the sky from falling on their heads. They roost on the edge of the raised bed, and it looks like their waller will be in the dirt at the foot of the rosemary bush.

Fenced Yard Side view

We saw them take the most luxurious dust bath recently. It is a glory to watch the sheer sensual pleasure they get from relaxing into the warm dust. They twitch their skin and feathers in an ancient pattern that pushes the dust up underneath their feathers, where it will smother mites and soothe itches and accomplish the chickeny equivalent of a dip in a hot springs. Their eyelids droop and their whole bodies become a puddle of relaxation. Then, in the blink of an eye, they hop up and start racing around the yard, flapping their wings in shows of dominance, and giving each other grief! There is no doubt, when you spend time sitting and watching the birds, that they love the sun, their yard, and the freedom to stretch their wings.

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7 Responses to Dusty Hot Springs

  1. Paul Cooley says:

    Your chickens are looking good. We now have a box of chickens on our dining room table. I’m sitting here thinking, “where do we go from here?” What are the requirements of a good coop for five chickens? When can we turn off the heat lamp? (I guess there’s no such thing as a compact flourescent heat lamp). I have three four by four garden spaces that I’m going to put the chickens in to build a raised bed a la the Chicken Tractor book. I just have to figure out a good recycled wood coop plan. I’m thinking of hauling a bunch of pallets in and using pallet lumber.

    Are you using any particular books or plans on chicken rearing?

  2. Holly says:

    Hey Paul, that’s great you’ve got your birds! Do you really have a box of chickens on the table, or chicks? Sounds like chicks, re: heat lamp. When to take them off has to do with a mix of age and your weather. See Chicken Tractor pp 245–246—we use his method. But keep ’em warm—and no, I don’t think there’re flourescent heat lamps! Buy a couple heat lamp bulbs. Somehow one of ours always either burns out or breaks, and early on you don’t want them to get cold. For our first batch of chicks, they broke the lamp—so make sure you get one with a guard over the bulb, even if it’s just those couple wires. I think we ended up pulling them off heatlamp at about 6 weeks. This is one of the funny things about folks who get all weirded out about chickens grown for meat who are slaughtered at 7–9 weeks, and only allowed outside at six weeks. Well, you can’t really let them out before that, because you can’t keep them warm and safe. They are small and vulnerable and unless one can devote one’s life to watching them, you can’t let them out all day until they are big enough not to look like hawk-snax. How many did you get?

    Oh, other chick thing is to check their butts every morning and make sure their poop isn’t caking up. “Pasted vent” this is called. No good. Use warm rags to soak it off, if it shows up, and even pull their little feathers out if you have to, but it’ll kill them if you don’t catch it quickly, and if they survive, they are often sickly.

    We had a surprisingly difficult time locating a decent plan for the coop. We ended up just sort of making it up based on various designs we’d seen. I’d note that we built such a heavy “tractor” that though we initially moved it around, we eventually settled on a permanent location. This was because it was so heavy, and also because we had too small a space for the tractor concept to really make sense. We ended up just disrupting our garden every three months. This time around we were going to break up some pallets we had from a flood, but I found that the slats were awfully short, and full of nails.

    In terms of their coop, my main advice is to have a fully secure closed space for night. I know lots of people who are kind of casual about this, and it reminds me of locking up bikes. People don’t do it—or don’t do it well—and then are surprised/outraged when their bikes get stolen. Same goes with chickens, except they won’t get stolen, per se, they’ll get eaten, often fairly gruesomely. Use hardware cloth, not “chicken wire”—the holes are too big on chicken wire.

    We got a really good book on chicks out from the library this time around, and I cannot remember the title. I think it may be: Backyard Poultry Raising by John Festus Adams. It’s older, 1977. If that’s the one, it was super-practical, which many books are not. He’s a small-scale chicken raiser, and had lots of good incubator info, etc. More intensive than we have room—or the neighbors—for, but good info. We also often refer to Carla Emery. My biggest biggest piece of advice: DO NOT FEED THEM GRASS. They loooove grass, but grass fills their crops and then just stays there, and though you will find many references on possible cures, including surgery (we could send you a gripping account from our local chicken list), I have yet to hear a real-life story of it working. We’ve lost a bird to impacted crop, and had another one really fade. You can let them out onto grass and they will bite off fairly small pieces, which seems to be ok, but don’t put them out right after mowing, and don’t put clumps or strands from weeding into their space. Weeds themselves are ok. It’s just the stringy fiber of grass that gets them.

    Wow! Exciting news.

  3. mary mcguire says:

    I had just been thinking that I had not heard about the chickens for a while. It is a good thing
    that others are sending you notes to let them know also. in these new pictures I thought at first
    that the chicks were not there but then I found them under the rosemary. thanks mary

  4. Paul Cooley says:

    Thanks for the advice. I keep staying up late worrying over the chicks. Our oddball chick did not seem to be doing too well — I wasn’t sure it was eating one evening, so I hand fed it — but now it’s doing well. Yesterday, one of the Red Sussex hurt its leg somehow and can’t put weight on one foot. I’m suspicious my four-year-old may have accidentally hurt it, but they were also feeding the chicks bugs they found in the front yard, and it may have pulled or sprained something in the mad race around the newspaper on the bottom of their box. So far, I’d say the bees are more intimadating but less worry.

    From your photographs, it looks like they grow up fast — I’ll be glad when we get past the small and fragile stage.

  5. Holly says:

    Hey Paul,

    Yeah, the small fragile part can be nerve-wracking, but is also blessedly short. And, besides the grass thing, they are pretty low maintenance after five or six weeks. Oh! Also, try to get some wood shavings or something like that to put in whatever you’ve got them in. Chicks find newsprint slippery and it can screw with their legs—don’t know if that’s what’s bothing your Red Sussex, but it is a good idea to have bedding. We get big bags of pine shavings, they’re like ten bucks for a huge compacted bag. You can apparently use straw as well, but we’ve always found it easier to get a hold of the pine shavings in the city. You may have more access to straw. This time around we also put a small log in their brooder, which they greatly enjoyed learning to roost on. Chicken love a higher viewpoint. Ours are currently roosting on top of a piece of wood Patrick wedged in to block them from using the nesting box for roosting, so they are sleeping crammed about four or five inches from the ceiling. Basically, they will sleep at the highest point they can find. We are currently pondering where to put a roost so they will be able to sleep at that height, but not crammed in the nesting box.

    Patrick just said—and I was thinking the same thing—how much easier the chickens have been this time around. There is truly a learning curve as we try to learn how to be good husbanders of these creatures. I think there is a latent sense we inherit from our current techno/urban-centric culture that farming is basically no-skill work. Even when it’s unconscious we sort of think this all should be easy. But it’s not. There’s a lot of knowledge that happens only through experience—and fortunately from others who’ve gone this way before. Trite though it sounds, the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.

    Be patient with yourself and good luck. Holly

  6. Kim says:

    This is our first time trying to raise chickens. My first question is requarding NOT TO FEED THEM GRASS. Does this go for chicks or chickens? I was also wondering about the ligting to keep them warm. Do you just keep the light on 24-7 or just make sure they are staying warm?

  7. Patrick says:

    kim, we found that feeding the chickens excessive amounts of grass (lawn clippings) caused impacted crop. If they range on grass and pick at it themselves there is no problem because they break off small enough pieces to digest easily.

    as for heating– keep the light on all the time for the first 8 weeks– use an infrared heatlamp so that they can sleep. you can use a thermometer but basically, if they are all huddled under the lamp, it is too cold in their brooder, if they are all pressed against the walls, it is too hot.

    this is all super basic stuff– get a book from the library and it will answer all of your questions. good luck and happy chickens


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