The Peeps are in the House!

Well Backyard Feast continues to be obsessed with all things chicken.  The coop is finished, and the teenage chicks are now enjoying their new digs.  They have TONS of space and, they are racing about and learning to fly up to the higher roosts.  It’s way too much fun to go hang out with them…time just disappears when you’re watching “Chicken TV”!

It’s hard to believe that just over a month ago the little fuzz butts looked like this:

A week ago they were in the “pterodactyl” phase:

Every time we lifted off the lid to the brooder, they would fly up to perch all along the edges.  Occasionally one would make it up to the windowsill above!  It was fun having them at eye level and up to play, but it was definitely time for some more grown-up digs.

Trouble in the Henhouse?

Skipper did an awesome job of the coop.  It’s roomy, bright, draft-free, dry and cozy.  It will be spacious for the eventual adult flock, with comfy nest boxes and easy access to the run.  We have worked hard to make sure it is predator-proof.  The wide doors will make it easy to clean, and the ultimate compost bins are right at hand!  The double-dutch door (which may yet get painted–red? blue?) also makes it fun to socialize…

And here they are, healthy 5 week-olds, taking advantage of their new home!

The Silver-laced Wyandottes are now hefty 7-week olds and are feathering out beautifully.  Though they can still be a bit skittish compared to the others, they have mellowed out a lot over the month we’ve had them.  The lighter one I want to name Misadventure (or Miss Adventure), cause she’s always the first one to bravely venture up to new heights and check out the visitors. 🙂

As the chicks are getting older, the “Who’s a Roo?” game is on in earnest.  I’m pretty sure that we have one roo and 3 girls in the Australorp mix, which is great!  But as I’ve watched the beautiful Buff Orpingtons grow, I’ve gone from thinking I’ve got another 3 girls and a boy, to now being suspicious that I had it backwards!  I think my sweet buffy roo that I’ve been cuddling all this time might actually be the only girl in the bunch!

He has a lovely breast, but see the comb and the splashes of darker pink just under the beak?  Those look like wattles developing to me…  I’ll be so sad if we’ve only got one girl Buff.  They are the sweetest breed and I’ll be heartbroken not to have more than one in the eventual flock.  We may have to swap for another one later?

Lest we might miss having wee ones chirping away day and night in the house, we decided we couldn’t resist getting just a few more chicks.  And I had really wanted some Blue-Laced Wyandottes… so we got four more cuties to round out the flock!

With any luck, when all is said and done, we’ll end up with 2 of each breed in our beautiful laying flock of eight.

Keep your fingers crossed for us!

It’s Still March, Right?

Well Happy Spring!

I don’t know where this month has gone, but things are really starting to take shape around here.  The chicks are growing by leaps and wing spans, and their coop is just about ready for them.  Which is good, because they are definitely ready for some more space, as well as proper roosts and bigger feeders.  The raised beds are halfway there–4 of the 8 beds are done and just need soil and manure before I can plant in them, and the other 4 will be ready soon.  My peas are in the ground, along with some crimson fava beans.  And I have sown a bit of ground cover (rye and clover) on some bare patches where the chickens will be scratching in a month or so.

I’m nervously watching the calendar, though, because the list of veggies, flowers, and herbs that need to be started in March is long!  I got to the onions, leeks, and parsley in February, and I managed to start some lettuce and spinach seeds a couple of weeks ago as well.  But the bulk of the seeding needs to be done this week: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers, basil…  I did get a bit of fennel started today too.  And I know all of these should have/could have been started a few weeks ago!  I’ll be regretting that I wasn’t off the ball more quickly when the good weather (does such a thing exist?) really gets going soon…  But this year is so much about building infrastructure that I’m not beating myself up about staying perfectly on top of the planting.

On the potato front, I went a little crazy with my seed potato ordering. :0  I ordered my potatoes from W and A Farms in Richmond, and I was dazzled by their selection.  I wanted lots of the really early potatoes to plant, and I wasn’t happy with the flavour of the Warbas we tried last year.  So I put in a special order for Carlitas, another “first early”.  Then we were at Canadian Tire a few weeks back, and they had boxes of early Purple Caribe potatoes, so we ended up with a couple of boxes of those too.  Then my Carlitas arrived in a GIANT 10kg/ 22lb bag whose label told me there was enough here to plant 44 row feet!  Yep.  My math leaves a lot to be desired when I’m asked questions on the spot.  I have about 25 row feet TOTAL for early potatoes.  I’m going to try to give some to the neighbours…

For main crop, I’ve also got some Russian Blue and Kennebecs, and depending on space, I may try to fit some Norlands in too.  By the time those need to go in the ground, the beds will be ready and I’ll have a better idea of my space.

Despite my fears about getting everything done in March (you know, before April’s list starts!), I had an interesting conversation with the farmer from W and A when I placed my order.  I asked when they might be delivering their spuds, and she said that they were at least a week, possibly 2, behind schedule because of the weather.  We’ve had an unseasonably cold February and March in this area.  But she also commented that our growing season seems to be getting shorter and shorter.  Carolyn Herriot made the same observation–she now starts most, if not all, of her veggies as seedlings in cold frames and greenhouses because spring weather is becoming so unpredictable and because our Junes are also so often inhospitable.  Greenhouse seedlings mean that when the warm weather finally hits, the seedlings are ready on schedule.  Otherwise, many crops that used to do well here could be a challenge.  Herriot also mentions that she’s now only growing tomatoes in pots; she just doesn’t get the crop she wants otherwise.  This all means that so far, starting plants a little later than the earliest dates recommended might be smart.  You know, instead of just late!

I’m still learning about my microclimate here, so I don’t have any sense of how I might need to adapt my practices yet.  But it’s interesting to hear the comments from gardeners with decades of local experience that the weather is markably changing.

The chicks will be in their new digs later this week, if all goes according to plan, and the raised beds should be done shortly too–many pics to come!


Barnyard in the Bathroom

Whew!  Well, it’s been a very eventful couple of weeks.  There’s been crazy weather, craziness in our jobs, lovely houseguests, and much activity in the backyard.  And now, there is an otherworldly red glow beaming from behind the upstairs bathroom door…

The chicks have arrived!  Skipper built a simple brooder (the chicken nursery cage seen here) and the bathroom upstairs was chosen as the best possible spot for the chicks to spend their indoor time.  It’s easy to keep warmer than the rest of the house, it’s easy to clean, and it’s easy to clean up after the chicks in.  When we bought our house, we never thought that having 4 bathrooms would be a good thing.  But now we’re glad of the space!

The local poultry swap that I alluded to in my last post was cancelled because of snow.  But I read online that some of the breeders might show up anyway, so Skipper and I stopped in to see who was there.  There weren’t too many chicks, but there was a couple who had done a big order from McMurray hatchery in the US, and picked up the shipment in Washington, in order to resell chicks here.  I wasn’t interested in hatchery chicks for a variety of reasons, but as we talked, we realized that this might be our chance to get some guaranteed girls.  The hatchery chicks are sexed, and the other chicks we were looking at were not.  Knowing that we would have at least 2 hens to start our flock with proved too tempting to pass up.  And so… 2 Silver Laced Wyandottes became our first new roomies!

After their long journey from Iowa, they were already 2 weeks old when we got them, and have now crossed the 3-week mark.  As you can see from the photo, they have passed the “fuzzy butt” stage of cuteness and are well into the feather changeover that takes chicks into their awkward teenage phase.

The day after acquiring the ladies, I made plans to head further north to Qualicum Beach after work.  A local farmer/breeder had advertised high-quality Buff Orpington and Australorp chicks for sale, and these were the two breeds I most wanted.  The buffs are reportedly the gentlest, friendliest chickens around, and the Australorps are a related breed renowed for their championship egg laying.  Both excellent qualities for us newbies!

After seeing these chicks, I regretted our earlier purchase.  The difference in quality, even to the untrained eye, was obvious.  And the personality difference between the girls who’d done nothing but travel in the first 2 weeks of life and these calm, well-cuddled birds was dramatic.  Of course, I still don’t know if I have any hens in the bunch!

A second complication: the chicks I picked up were 3 days old–considerably smaller than the 2 week old teens.  So we put in a quick barrier down the middle of the coop to keep them separated temporarily.  Today, with the little ones more than a week old, I’m letting them spend the day together.

So here are the true fuzzy butts (warning! poop!):

Hard to get a good picture of these active squirmers! The Buffs are the yellow chicks, and they are living up to their reputation; they don’t seem phased by anything.  The little black and white ones are the Australorps; as adults they are beautiful jet black birds with an iridescent green sheen in the sun.  They are curious, active, alert–they can’t wait to get in the side with the big girls!

There are 4 of each, in the hope that we might end up with 2 females of each breed.  Of course, probability doesn’t work that way, so we’ll see!  We will likely add a few more chicks of another breed in a few weeks to fill out the flock, even though this means adding younger birds to an older flock, which has some challenges.  But once everyone is settled into their pecking order, we hope to have a pretty and diverse flock of 6-8 friendly hens in our eco-system for the next 2-3 years of laying.

In just a few short weeks, though, these birdies will all be ready for their big-kid home: the coop in the backyard that the Skipper has been busily getting organized, and neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow kept him from his task…

The coop now has doors and paint, but I’ll wait for the siding and trim to go on before the final reveal. 🙂 It’s going to be beautiful!  It’s designed for 8 grown hens max, and will have a large, predator-proof run attached a little later.  But there should be plenty of room for 10-15 adolescents while we wait for the boys to distinguish themselves from the girls!  We’re also working on fencing off a larger forage/orchard area for them to enjoy through the summer when they won’t be allowed into the rest of the garden.  We’ll see how things go with the roosters.  If we get a calm one, we might still go down the road of keeping one, otherwise the plan is to give them a good summer and “process” them at 20 weeks or so, unless they start to get rowdy!  We don’t need 8 lb birds; we’re not really in this for the meat.  So if they get sent to “freezer camp” early, so be it.

More pics to come–these kids grow up fast!