Weird Egg

weird green shell-less egg from an Easter Egger chicken

Have you ever gotten a weird egg? The first time we got one, it sure seemed bizarre.  If you keep chickens long enough, you are bound to eventually get one, too.   My neighbor came over and asked me last week “Why is her Easter Egger laying shell less eggs?”  She is not the crazy chicken lady that I am, and has yet to read every chicken book she could get her hands on.  This was her first chicken to lay shell less eggs and she was worried there could be something wrong.  I took a picture of the egg of course.  It had the consistency of a water balloon, but the feel of dry skin.  The common causes of shell-less eggs include the following:

  • A young pullet just starting to lay whose system isn’t completely functional yet, might initially lay a few.  It usually corrects itself within a few eggs.
  • Insufficient calcium.  Chickens need a lot of calcium to create good, hard shells.  Give the chickens layer feed and offer free choice oyster shell or crushed egg shell.
  • Stress or a sudden disturbance.  My son, J, found this one out the hard way.  He accidentally freaked out a hen when trying to pick her up and out popped a shell less egg.
  • Lack of vitamin D due to little or no sun light exposure. With backyard chickens, which normally get plenty of time outdoors, lack of vitamin D usually isn’t a problem.
  • Infectious bronchitis, a contagious chicken disease, causes respiratory problems like nasal discharge, gasping, and coughing, along with a decrease in egg production and poor quality eggs, including shell-less and misshapen eggs.  If nothing else is wrong with the hen, don’t assume this is the cause.
  • If the problem continues with no other symptoms, it could be a defective shell gland.  There is no cure for a defective shell gland.  Some flock owners cull hens with defective shell glands because it can lead to the rest of the flock eventually becoming egg eaters.

 

This posting is linking to Tilly’s Nest Blog Hop.

 

© 2012 – 2013, .

A Clever Automatic Coop Door – No Electricity or Battery Needed

I feel a automatic coop door opener is a must have for every urban chicken keeper, especially if your spouse, like mine, is not too keen about being woken up at dawn everyday by hens anxious about getting on with their business for the day. However, getting power to a coop can be a challenge and some of the battery powered or solar powered automatic door openers can be very expensive. I stumbled on to this nifty automatic coop door opener in the U.K. on Youtube the other day. It is chicken powered! It has a weighted lever and pulley system designed into the roost.

If something happens to one of the chickens or the flock size is reduced or increased, an additional weight would need to be added or removed to rebalance. From looking at the invention, the sand filled jugs on the bottom lever appear to be easy to remove or add as needed to make weight adjustments.

Very clever!

 

Below is a picture of my homemade step up with a drapery motor/ motorized auto coop door opener.  More pictures of it and my coop and can be found HERE. If you have a automatic coop door opener to share, leave me a comment with a link or email me a photo. I plan to eventually redo my own coop door opener when I move to coop to the other side of yard and would love some more ideas or suggestions. Thanks.

This is my current automatic coop door opener. It is a curtain opener made by Add A Moter and it lifts the chicken coop’s sliding panel pop door. It runs on electricity, but when the time comes to build a new coop, I think I might try building a lever system opener instead.

© 2012 – 2013, .

A bad experience with sand in the chicken run

Sand vs. Shavings is one of those things, each chicken keeper has their own personal preference on, based on their run situation and location of their coop.  My coop and run are over concrete, not dirt.   I have used both sand and shavings in the chicken run, and I can honestly say I HATE sand.

A photo of my run from back in the days when I used to use sand

Okay, it did work out fine at first, that is until winter, about 8 or 9 months later. Daily raking out of the poop with my fine tooth rake kept it looking fresh and got out all the solids.  But then Southern California winter rains came.  The sand got wet, and it got stinky, I mean really, really stinky! probably the kind of stinky that gives backyard chickens a bad name.  It was awful and would take many days to dry out after each storm.  It was wretched to be within a few feet of the coop.  Plus, I felt terrible about leaving the chickens in the stinky run, so of course they got to free range to their hearts content during the drying periods.  As it dried out with the door open, it attracted flies by the thousands.  Bad, bad, bad!  I didn’t want a complaint from neighbors that my chickens stink and they had been attracting flies, but for the time being, it was true.  I had to fix it.

What had been happening was the chickens were incorporating some of their poop into the sand each day with their scratching, and the rake wasn’t able to get the wetness.  The runnier wet poops weren’t rake-able, they just leached into the sand.  I wasn’t really cleaning it as well as I thought.  The fact my coop was built to prevent rodents and critters from getting in at the base and with the concrete underneath it, may have aggravated the drying problem after the rains.  After a half dozen winter storms, I decided to muck it all out and start over.

I am ashamed to say, much of the sand ended up in the city’s trash collection.  Southern California garden experts all warn against adding sand to our clay soils, and sand won’t break down in the compost. Adding sand to clay soil creates a nightmare for gardeners by destroying the soil’s natural structure and takes on a concrete like consistency that is impossible to correct, short of disposing of the soil.  So very little of the sand ended up in the yard or compost.

I switched to biodegradeble things for bedding, mainly pine shavings in the run, and I haven’t used sand since.  I am so much happier with shavings.  In the fall, I also use fallen leaves from the chinese elm tree.  It works out so much better because the all the litter goes into the compost and creates an almost perfect balance of greens and browns.  The compost normally heats up to between 150 to160 degrees and I usually have hot finished compost within 6 to 8 weeks.

If my run was over dirt, my experience with sand may have been a little different; I don’t know.  I am curious if other locals have had a similar experience after long term use of sand and how it was remedied.

© 2012 – 2013, .

Joint Custody

My two broody hens stared at each other in their separate nests for the last 4 weeks, on fake eggs and then on the fertile Cochin eggs I bought on ebay.  I had been thinking about the possibility of letting them sit with their chicks together, too.  However, most of the expert chicken sources recommend separating broody hens from the rest of the flock and from each other.  I have read a few horror stories on backyardchickens.com where two broody hens have fought and killed newly hatched chicks rather than let another hen near or share.  However, I came across enough posts where two hens happily shared their babies to realize it has been done successfully. Life would be so much simpler if I only had to refill one waterer and one feeder and clean only one pen. Also, the tiny garage would be less crowded with just one pen. I selfishly wanted my two hens to have joint custody.

Bantam Cochin Hens sharing chicks

Yesterday, chicks hatched.  They are super duper cute, with some various shade of partridge/ chipmunk patterns, a few odd blue ones, and a black. Guess What? The mama hens are sharing the chicks just fine so far. I haven’t seen any signs of fighting or hoarding. Hopefully all continues to go well. Since I like watching chicken TV, I will check on them regularly throughout the next few days to make sure they are still keeping the peace. If it doesn’t work out, I can always get out the other set up.

© 2012, .

Unusual Chicken Coops

Although most anyone that can hold a hammer and operate a saw can build a chicken coop, it takes real imagination and creativity to make one that is creative or a pleasure to look at. I enjoy coming across out of the ordinary, beautiful, weird, wacky, or magical looking chicken coops and poultry houses from around the web.*  If you know of any other crazy coops, send me a link, post a comment, or email me photo. Thanks! Below are a few of my favorites:

unusual backyard chicken coop made from natural materials found in africa

Chicken coop from Burkina Faso, West Africa found at Voice in the Desert blog

hobbit hole looking backyard chicken coop that looks like it belongs in the shire

A Hobit Hole Chicken Coop made by Wooden Wonders in Maine

 

Quonset Hut style chicken coop from Brisbane, Australia and made by Chicken Coops for Brisbane

 

A cute living roof chicken coop in Seattle, Washington at found at the Seattle Times

A fairytale cottage style chicken coop found at BYC

This coop looks like it is from Snow White’s Haunted Forest, but it is just a cute cottage style Chicken Coop nestled in an industrial Park found on Flickr

 

A cape code style chicken coop in Utah. This one is filled with amazing murals throughout the interior. Click here to see all the fantastic paintings inside over at BYC

A Funky Earthship Chicken Coop somewhere in the SouthWest on Revolution From Home blog

An Asian inspired Chicken Coop in a Japanese Garden at The Style and Design of Dean Yoder blog

 

A rustic chicken coop in Echo Park, California found in the photos of a house tour on Apartment Therapy

A small chicken coop hidden away in a veggie garden in the San Francisco Bay area, found at Pluck and Feather blog

Wierd but fun chicken tractor that kids would love - transformers theme

Optimus Prime Transformer theme chicken tractor. Found at all places, a PC Community Forum called Overclockers. The site has nothing to do with backyard chicken keeping, but cool to see, all the same.

 

unusual silly fun backyard chicken coop with decorative accents

Stage coach shaped blue backyard chicken coop with punched metal or tin windows and doors details. sold by Modo Verde.


*Unlike the rest of my blog, many of the photos in this post are not my original works, but were found throughout the internet. I did my best to credit and link each image back to the original works and their posters/creators/sources/or places where they are sold.  However if at any time you would prefer not to have one of your images or links here, please email me at lianne@hanburyhouse.com and I’ll take it down right away.  Thanks.


© 2012 – 2013, .

A Visit from the Hawk

Coopers Hawk sitting in our backyard Chinese Elm tree, trying to decide which chicken it wants for lunch.

Hawks are a serious concern for free ranging chickens, even for flocks living in urban areas, like ours. Since I spend a lot of time outside and love watching birds, I have noticed we get plenty of fly overs from Coopers Hawks, Prairie Falcons, American Kestrals, and Red Tail Hawks.  With 3 chicken keepers on the block and a big park that connects to giant nature preserve and river, I think our street is a favorite stop on their daily tour of the area.  Hearing panicked squawking, I have rushed out back on a few occasions over the last few years to find a Cooper’s Hawk, alone, or with its mate and some juveniles, on the house roof, on top of the chicken coop, in our tree, or even once on the patio table just staring at the frightened chickens inside the run.  It probably figures our house looks like a Hawk version of a KFC, and its just hanging out at the table waiting for its chicken dinner to be served.

Even though we have a lot of tree canopy and shrubs for shelter for the chickens to run and hide in, as seen in my photo above, the big tree also makes a great place for the hawks perch while they enjoy taking their time picking out which chicken looks the yummiest!  For good reason, I don’t let my chickens out unless George and I are out with them.  I bet a bantam hen or chick looks like pretty easy pickens to a hawk.

We had a low fly by a month or so ago when I was out working in the yard while the chicks and mama hen were nearby.  I totally understand why the chickens were really freaked out, but it was interesting to see how they were able to communicate in chicken language to the babies what needed to be done instantly, in order to avoid the hawk getting them.  I happened to have my phone in my pocket, and of course this crazy chicken lady had to capture the moment.  What was I thinking?

Usually the baby chicks are busy scurrying all over the place, within a few feet of their mama hen when they are out of the coop. And normally the hens are busy too, looking for bugs and nibbling grass as they scratch around. But when the hawk flew over both hens near me sounded the alert call, everybody (well, everybody except me) bolted under the bushes, and tried to blend in. Once under the blackberries, the mama hen was making an intermittent very faint cooing sort of sound, almost like a purr. Apparently this is the chicken word that means freeze and hush.

Along with the buff mama hen, Daisy, our white cochin, THX1138, was also looking out for Daisy’s baby chicks. She often sticks nearby the mama and chicks rather than forage with the other two adult hens. I could also hear THX1138 quietly telling the couple of chicks near her to stay frozen, too. I think she would also like to be a mama.  J and I felt bad for the scared chickens, so we scooped everyone up and put them back in the coop and garage pen.  Once inside, they went happily about their chicky business as if nothing had happened.

© 2012, .

Not Breaking My Broody Hen

Two Broody Hens side by side in the two nest boxes in the coop.

Just recently my buff bantam Cochin, Daisy, decided it was time try to start another brood of chicks.  Crazy moody hen!  Her chicks from the last batch are only 11 weeks old this week.  She had only been back to laying for about 3 weeks when she started talking broody and staked out her territory in the nest area again.  Lucky for her, my son’s white Cochin, THX1138, also went broody within a day or two of her.  The poor white hen has gone broody 3 times before, and every time I broke her of it.  THX1138 would regularly follow the buff hen with her chicks around the yard when they were still little, not bothering them, just being around them.  One time she even helped protect Daisy’s chicks, from what the hens thought was an imminent hawk attack. I think THX1138 really wants her turn to be a mama hen.

It is hard to justify buying shipped eggs for a single bantam hen because a lot of time breeders sell in lots of 12 to 18 eggs and one Bantam Cochin can only easily cover 6 or 8 bantam eggs or 3 or 4 large fowl eggs.  Shipping eggs is usually about $13 to $15 for postage and packaging, and then add the purchase price of the eggs on top of that, it is often $30 to $50 by the time fertile eggs arrive in the mail.

I would probably have broken the buff hen had THX1138 not also gone broody at the same time. With two broodies at the same time, I could justify the shipping, and they got to split an order.  Even then, we still ended up with too many eggs; the seller kindly sent 20 eggs and I only needed to set 6 or so under each hen.  The chicks from these eggs will be of mixed colors of bantam Cochins (of course 😉 Their sire was a Partridge Cochin bantam and the mothers could have been any of the breeder’s buff, partridge, red, black, laced, white, or silver pencilled hens. They should make for some very interesting color combinations.

Hopefully USPS shipping didn’t damage too many of the fertilized eggs in transit.  The eggs arrived in the mail a week ago, Tuesday. My daughter, B, helped unpacked and candle each egg to look for broken air chambers or overly porous or fractured shells.  Since I only wanted to place 6 eggs under each hen, I wanted to pick the eggs that would have the best chance of making it to hatch.  Sunday night, since we had our 3rd neighborhood power outage in 24 hours and not much to do in the dark that evening, J and I candled the eggs. It looked like the majority of them were already developing veining with the beginning of tiny embryos about the size of a pencil eraser head.

My daughter B opened up the eggs and help me examine them all for broken air chambers.

Every once in a while, I get asked by new chicken keeping friends about how to break a broody hen.  The method I have successfully used in the past, is to keep a second pen, in our case a rabbit hutch with a wire floor, the same one I have on hand in case I need to I isolate a chicken for other reasons. If a hen has only been broody for a few days, keeping her in the hutch with no nest and plenty of cool air flow underneath, helps to shorten the duration of the broody hormonal cycle. I like using a rabbit hutch because it is just as safe as the coop and doesn’t have to be in the garage like the dog crate for safety. While a hen is in there, I make sure she has plenty of food and water and gets out to forage in the yard with the rest of the flock for a half hour or so each day.

Below is a short video of my two broodies. Broody hens sound a little different than how hens normally sound. And when they get pulled off the nest, for a few moments they sit like zombies on the ground. Despite not wanting to be bothered, my hens still seem to be really nice and don’t peck or bite at us. They just cluck and puff up to tell us and other hens to leave them alone.

 

The longer the hen has been broody, the longer it usually takes for them to snap out of it and get back to laying. I generally keep them in the hutch until they lay again, usually 3 days to a week.  I have not had much luck with constantly removing a hen from her nest throughout the day. Eventually the broody’s determination always wins out and I give up.

The following are a few other strategies some chicken keepers say breaks broodiness that I have only read about, but I personally don’t use them.  Some sound a bit stressful for the hen, like dunking the hen in ice cold water.  My hens tend to go broody in the middle winter most years, and a cold wet chicken would be a really bad idea at that time of year. I would rather have a broody chicken than a sick chicken. Other things include placing ice cubes or frozen water balloons in the nest throughout the day.  For any one with a rooster in their flock, locking the hen in a pen all alone with the rooster’s constant amorous attention is supposed to prevent the hen from brooding on a nest.  Never tried that one either since we live in an urban area and roosters are not allowed.

On the flip side, I love having baby chicks around and I often let my broody hens raise them, as long as we don’t have any upcoming vacation plans within a month of hatch or something else that would make having baby chicks around a problem.  The two hens picked a good time of year for us this time.  I will update on egg development later on.  They are due to hatch around May 1st.

 

© 2012, .

Chickens Anonymous

photo from Los Angeles Urban Chicken Enthusiasts at Meet Up

As many urban chicken keepers will attest, backyard chickens can be addictive.  And for flock owners, like myself, who often have non chicken keeping friends’ eyes glaze over at the mere mention of chickens, there is help out there.  It is in a social network at MeetUp: Los Angeles Urban Chicken Enthusiasts (although I have over heard a few members jokingly call Chicken Addiction Anonymous.)

When I first joined in April of 2010,  Los Angeles Urban Chicken Enthusiasts, or LAUCE for short, was still a relatively small community group, but membership quickly swelled beyond 750 members.  I was tickled when I noticed the group was mentioned in the first issue of Urban Farm Magazine.

A Spring 2010 meetup held in a lush edible garden. Photo from Los Angeles Urban Chicken Enthusiasts

Los Angeles Urban Chicken Enthusiasts is an online community for people who either have chickens or are thinking seriously about getting chickens and who live in Southern California. In addition to the chicken discussions that take place in the online discussion board, different members host regular free monthly workshops, called Meet Ups, and gatherings to share what folks know about chicken keeping in a backyard setting.  Sometimes they are casual potlucks, but generally, the meetings focus on a particular topic or have a featured guest speaker.  Typically, the meetings are held at locations where folks have a chance to see chickens up close and view a coop.   It is a nice place to get started with chickens, to compare stories with others with the same hobby, or to get questions answered.

At LAUCE, I get to talk to others passionate about the same stuff I am interested in.  Many of the members are also organic gardeners, bee keepers, sustainable living advocates, and urban homesteaders.  I actually fit in!  The only thing missing is medieval costumes and then I would call it the perfect group.  Oops, I have never mentioned here at my blog that I used to be a member of the S.C.A. during the decade prior to buying our house.  Sorry, I digress.

Here is a short video featuring LAUCE and the founding member, Lora, with her backyardchickens.

I am aware of similar chicken themed Meet Up groups in Austin, New York, and Atlanta. However, I am sure with the increase in backyard chicken popularity, there are many more throughout the country that an online search could easily turn up.

Typically the meet ups are held where folks can get a coop tour or see chickens in person. This Coop used to be at the Wrigley Community Garden in Long Beach, where a meet up was held in 2010.  The community garden is now closed but the coop has since been moved to Farm 59.   Photo from Los Angeles Urban Chicken Enthusiasts

 

 

For more information on Los Angeles Urban Chicken Enthusiasts or to find a similar group at Meet Up in another part of the country, click here.

 

 

© 2012, .

Gangly Teenage Chicks

 

My Buff Bantam Cochin has decided her chicks are big enough to be on their own and they don’t need her to be a mama hen anymore.  I know this because as of Monday, last week, she has been pecking at them when they go near her and she is hanging out with the big girls again.  Plus, two days ago she started laying again.

Where did the time go?  It was just Feb. 1st that they hatched.  They grew so fast.  They are mostly feathered out with juvenile feathers, minus a few bare shoulders on some of the boys.  They aren’t cute little fuzz balls anymore, and are at the awkward gangly stage when they look like tiny dinosaurs.  I am glad the weather has been so warm since the Buff Cochin is no longer covering them at night.  I do have a heat lamp on in the coop, but they aren’t hanging out under it.

B’s science project will soon come to an end since we are now pretty sure on the genders of the majority of the chicks.  From the previous set of chick photos, we sold the Mottled Cockerel and the Self Blue/ Lavendar Cockerel.  It was pretty obvious what their gender was early on.   Another chick we thought was going to be a white frizzle, turned out to be a red frizzle.  It was quite a surprise.

We will likely keep a few…the Silver Laced pullet, the Partridge, and one of the Blacks.  Bantam Black Cochins are still my favorite because the ones I have raised beyond 8 weeks have been very productive and super friendly, including the one boy I kept until he was about 4 months old.

All photos below were taken Sunday.  I tried to include 1 or 2 pictures of each of the chicks.  The chicks are 6 weeks old today.  There were a whole lot of cockerels this time around.

Blue Bantam Cochin Cockerel 7 weeks old

Partridge Bantam Cochin Pullet 7 weeks old

White Frizzle Cochin Bantam Cockerel 7 weeks old

 

Blue Bantam Cochin Pullet 7 weeks old

 

Black Bantam Cochin Cockerel 7 weeks old (this one I was unsure of until 8 weeks old)

 

Black Bantam Cochin Pullet 7 weeks old

 

Silver Laced Cochin Bantam Pullet 7 weeks old

 

Red Frizzle Cochin Bantam Cockerel 7 weeks old

Black Cochin Bantam Cockerel 7 weeks old

Another Black Cochin Bantam Pullet 7 weeks old

 

Silver Laced Cochin Bantam Cockerel 7 weeks old

 

© 2012, .

Update on the crowing hen

I felt terrible about it, but in late January, I had to evict Penguin, our 1 1/2 year old black bantam cochin hen.   She started to crow at least 3 to 4 mornings a week, and was spending most nights in the garage to avoid waking anyone in the pre dawn hours.  I figured as long as she remained a “top hen,” she was probably going to keep crowing.  Thanks to my good friend, K, Penguin was welcomed across the street into K’s larger backyard flock.  I like Penguin so much and didn’t want to sell her to a stranger that I might have even paid K to take Penguin if she asked.

Photo of Penguin taken around this time last year with Harley and Prissy

Well, Penguin is actually fitting in really well over there.  There was no blood shed in the initial transition.  At first, K said Penguin got pecked at every once in awhile by the others, and she didn’t sleep on the roost the first few weeks, but she would follow the rest of the flock into the coop at night.  Two of the large fowl girls helped to put her in her place, making her lower in the pecking order.  I think that is what was needed for her to give up being a flock protector and crower.  K said she has not made a single peep in the 4 weeks she has been there.  And just in the last week, she has finally conquered her own territory on the roost at night.  K jokingly calls her Napoleon.  Penguin might be little, but she comes with a big personality and lots of confidence.  She isn’t at the top of the pecking order (yet), but she quickly established herself over the Easter Eggers and Black Sex-Link pullets.  She isn’t letting the older hens intimidate her either.  She appears to be somewhere in the middle of the flock hierarchy.  It seems to have been a good fit for her.  The only sad part for me, is when I visit, Penguin acts like she doesn’t remember me.  K says Penguin (aka Napoleon) has yet to forgive me for exiling her to Elba.

Where Penguin now lives: Behind the gate and grape arbor is a large 20 x 20 chicken run and coop

© 2012, .