Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Category: Chickens (Page 2 of 2)

Strange Eggs

Anyone who has raised chickens for a while has certainly seen some strange eggs laid by the hens. I have seen a small egg inside of a large egg, double yolk eggs, long thin shaped eggs, and probably others that I can’t think of at the moment. The most common “strange egg” that I have seen is the “egg with no shell”. These literally have no shell, but they do have the tough leathery skin that lines the inside of a normal egg shell. They have a pale translucent appearance. They begin to shrink fairly quickly as the water evaporates through that leathery skin. Since it is the inside that is shrinking while the outer skin remains the same size, it soon loses it’s round egg shape.

Keep in mind that this same evaporation and shrinking also occurs in regular eggs since the shell is porous. That is why you can approximate the age of an egg by seeing if it floats or sinks in a glass of water. As the egg ages, it loses water and air is pulled in through the shell to displace the lost water. That is the air sac that is at the end of an egg. The older the egg is, the more water is lost; air is pulled into the egg causing it to float rather than sink.

Farm Dogs

Few things represent the rural agrarian life more than the farm dog. In addition to the companionship that dogs provide, the farm dog really earns his keep. With only one acre, we hardly qualify as living on a farm, yet our dog still has his job and he does it well.

Shiloh is our Shetland Sheepdog (also known as a Sheltie). At 35 pounds, he is a good bit larger than the standards call for, which is why he lost his value as a stud dog and we were able to get him. When pests invade the garden, Shiloh chases them away. An unusual pest for most folks but not uncommon for us is wild peacocks that sometimes get into the garden until Shiloh chases them away. Another job that Shiloh does well is catching chickens that fly over their fence and get into the garden. It’s almost as much fun watching that as it is watching a Border Collie working sheep. He chases the chicken and tries to corner it. The chicken will eventually give up and stop and he just stands over it to keep it from leaving. He never tries to bite or harm the chicken in any way. If we aren’t out there at the time, he will bark to let us know that he needs help. I walk over and pick up the chicken and put it back over the fence. The chickens are usually quite happy to see me after dealing with the dog.

Shiloh as a young puppy, holding a chicken

Mama Hen and the Brood

On January 1, we put 12 fertile eggs under a broody Buff Orphington hen. Twenty-one days later, we had seven baby chicks. The chicks are (I hope) all Rhode Island Reds (RIR). We have a RIR rooster, and the RIR eggs are shaped a bit differently than the Buff Orpington eggs, so I hope that what we have is pure Rhode Island Red chicks. We’ll see as they mature.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that the survival rate of chicks hatched and raised by a hen is much better than with an incubator. The incubator yields a bit better number of hatched chicks than the hen, but the mortality rate during the first week or so is much higher. So far, we have never lost a single chick that was hatched and raised by a hen.

To the right is the Roll-Away nest box described in a previous post. It makes a great hatching nest with the partition removed and sitting level. The feeder and water jar have since been moved on top of a concrete paver to keep the hen from scratching dirt into them.

Building a Roll-away Nest Box

We were having a constant problem with eggs being broken and eaten, and with very dirty eggs. Cleaning the eggs was taking a significant amount of time, and it was a nasty, smelly job. We needed roll-away nest boxes. There are a number of different designs that can be bought or built. I looked at several different ones before deciding that plastic storage boxes would make an ideal material to start with.

These nest boxes are made from 18 gallon storage boxes that I bought in a 3-pack from Lowes. I used a knife and a saw to cut out the large hole in the front. The only important measurement (other than being sized for your chickens) is that the bottom edge of the hole allows a short piece of 2×4 to be attached to it.

The partition that separates the nest section from the egg section is made of scrap plywood or press board. I just used up some scrap pieces. The edges of the partition have pieces of 2×2 screwed in place to allow for screws to attach it to the sides of the plastic box. The dimensions will vary according to the plastic box used, but my partitions were 14 1/4″ across the top, 12 1/2″ across the bottom, and 11 1/2″ high. The bottom was approximately 2 1/4″ from the top of the fake grass.

The bottom is lined with “fake grass”. This is not the standard indoor/outdoor carpet, but a sturdier material designed to be used as a plastic grass substitute. It was purchased by the foot from Lowes. Although it works well, I found that the hens were much happier with it when I added a very thin layer of hay on top. It was a very thin layer of hay – just enough to make it look like hay rather than plastic. If you put too much hay in, the eggs will not roll out very well.

The nest boxes sit on some boards that form a platform for them. The slope is provided by adding a 2×4, turned on its side under the front.

I will probably end up trimming the fake grass to eliminate places for spiders and other bugs to take up residence. Other than that, I am well satisfied with the design. The eggs are all clean and easy to gather. I either lift the top, or just reach under the partition. Since we started using these nest boxes, we have not had a single broken egg, and all of them are much cleaner than with the old nest boxes.

The finished nest boxes in use. There is a wire that goes from an eye screw below the perch to a screw on the supporting 2x4. Before adding this, the chickens would knock the nest boxes over by standing on the edge.

A piece of 2x4 is screwed to the plastic at the bottom of the opening. This gives the hens something to stand on and provides a place tor the eye screw. The eye screw is used to secure the nest box in place.

Once the approximate gap between the wood partition and the "fake grass" has been established, make sure that the eggs that your hens lay will easily roll to the back. I used a saw to trim off any excess until they easily rolled under the partition.

Switzerland, Chickens, a Garden, and Ronda

The lovely Southern Lady on this magazine cover is Ronda – the step-daughter of my best friend from college. Ronda and her husband live in Lausanne, Switzerland – an incredibly beautiful place that looks more like a dreamy postcard than a real city. Lausanne is on Lake Geneva, with the French Alps on the other side. Ronda and her husband live in town, and the article is about the young business woman from America with a small “farm” in her back yard. She grows vegetables, blackberries, blueberries, figs, apples, and now, chicken eggs.

Clean Water for Chickens

Chickens seem to prefer drinking the nastiest water they can find. It is our job to make sure they only have fresh clean water. From my own reading, experience, and talking with others, the best way to do this (unless you are supplying them directly from your own drinking water) is to add hydrogen peroxide to the water tank. Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) is a powerful oxidizer that kills (literally by burning) any organic matter in the water. Keep in mind that, ideally, by the time the water gets to the chickens, the hydrogen peroxide will have broken down into water by releasing the extra atom of Oxygen. Our objective is to have clean water – and only clean water – for the chickens. We aren’t trying to feed them hydrogen peroxide.

When using hydrogen peroxide, it is extremely important that it be properly diluted – contact with high concentrations can be quite dangerous, and if it is too low, it will be less than effective. When handling concentrated hydrogen peroxide, you need to be very careful – eye protection and rubber gloves would be a good idea.

The 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide can be found at most health food stores. It needs to be kept refrigerated and away from light. Again, read the warnings and handling instructions carefully.

The recommended concentration is 8 ounces of 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide per 1,000 gallons of water. For my 35 gallon tank, I use 1 1/2 teaspoons in 30 gallons of water (I don’t fill the tank all the way to the top). I have since switched to a metric graduated cylinder to measure, so that comes out to 7.097 ml of 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide.

Hydrogen Peroxide in Agriculture
Water line cleaners
A Secret Ingredient for your Water Trough

An Interesting Chicken Tractor Design

The Little Egg Chicken Tractor from Gardner's Supply Company

I am fascinated by chicken coop designs. Gardener’s Supply Company has something called the Little Egg Chicken Tractor. Now, I tend to be very much a do-it-yourself type, so I see something like this and think about how I could make it better (and cheaper), so it’s the basic design that I’m looking at.

It looks like they are using parts used for chain link fencing as the framework for the run. I have used those same parts to build a hawk-proof top for the “chicken nursery” where my chicks stay until they are fully grown and able to fend for themselves in the main chicken yard. It looks like it should be a very sturdy and lightweight design. My previous attempts at something like this proved to be far too heavy to be practical to move. This looks like it would work just fine.

The description says it will hold two to four chickens. I’d say that two large hens, such as Rhode Island Reds or Buff Orpingtons would be about right. It should hold four bantams just fine also, but I have found that bantams do a lot more scratching than larger hens do, so I’m afraid that they would do more damage to the ground than I’d want to see in a grass yard. For a suburban family wanting eggs a couple times a week, this just might be what they’re looking for.

One change that I would make is to change the angles on the bottom rail of the run so that when it is sitting on the ground, there is not a gap on the end where it joins to the coop. Just a little bend in the pipes should do the trick. That’s really just a minor issue though, since the ground isn’t going to be completely level, and as long as you’re moving it around regularly, they aren’t going to have time to scratch around and dig under it.

The fact that the wheels are where all the weight is would make it easy to move around. Overall, it just looks like an excellent design. I’ll have to build something like that myself and see how it comes out. If you don’t have the time or the inclination to build it yourself, you can get the whole thing directly from Gardener’s Supply Company.

A Water Tower for the Chickens

One of the earliest lessons that anyone learns when they start keeping chickens is that water is heavy. Lugging around gallons of water for the chickens is not a fun thing to do, and the older we get, the clearer that lesson becomes. The solution is to have the water piped directly to the chickens.

I have tried just about every possible method of delivering water to my chickens, so I now have a box filled with waterers that I no longer use. Someone who uses city water has more possibilities, but our well water has so much mineral content that anything that uses a regulator or metal valves will last only months before it is completely useless.

In order to get a consistent supply of low pressure water, I decided that a gravity feed system is what I need. I also wanted a system that keeps the water as clean as possible and has enough pressure and volume to supply water to several places – not just a single chicken coop.

The tower was mostly built on its side. Having a flat concrete slab to work on helped keep things relatively square.

The parts were clamped into place, then pilot holes were drilled. The tower was assembled with stainless steel lag bolts.

With the main frame of the tower completed, we moved it into place near the chickens. We made sure it was far enough away from trees so it wouldn't be damaged by falling branches during a storm.

The valve section is just slip-fit into the pipe so that it can be removed if needed. The bronze water spigot is where a hose is connected using a double-female connector to pump water into the tank.

The tank is a 35 gallon sprayer tank from Tractor Supply. It turned out to be perfect for the project.

The main water line is buried with screw plugs placed every 10' (indicated by the posts of the chain link fence just a few feet back). This gives flexibility in where chicken coops are located in the future.

The end of the main water pipe has a stub so that more can be added to the end by cutting and adding a coupling. Since this photo was taken, I have replaced the end cap with a gate valve. When it is time to fill the tank, I open the valve to flush out the main supply line and empty the tank before refilling it.

View showing the roof and two sides. At this point, the back and the front door have not yet been added. The roof is hinged at the back and slopes toward the front. (If it sloped to the back, it would be pouring onto the 'chicken nursery' behind it.)

To get more use from the tower, cattle panels were attached to the sides, and pole beans and cucumbers were planted around the sides and front.

The cattle panel trellis was attached to the top 2x4 using stainless steel wire.

The completed tower, fully enclosed. It is important to keep the sun off of the tank to keep the water cool and to discourage the growth of algae in the tank.

When filling the tank, the front door is propped open with a stick.

The April 9 Hatching

This batch of Rhode Island Red eggs is due to hatch on April 9. This is the first batch of eggs from these hens and rooster, so we’ll see what happens. The rooster has an interesting sounding crow – it is more like that of a small bantam rooster. I hope that is an inherited trait!

This batch of eggs has been scrapped due to my own negligence. We had a power outage for about 12 hours several days ago. I cranked up the generator and ran the incubator (as well as the water pump and the office), but when I plugged the incubator back into the wall outlet, I plugged in the incubator but not the egg rotator. What I thought was the plug for the rotator was the plug for the seed starting heating mat. They might have still successfully hatched, but if only a few hatched, I didn’t want to try mixing the chicks after starting a second batch. The new batch will probably be started in about a week.

One major point for Wyandotte’s comment! Momma Hen doesn’t care about electrical power.

Hatched by Momma hen - Buff Orpington

Having chicks hatched the “natural way” is, of course, the best way to go. I previously had some broody Buff Orpingtons, but this current group has shown absolutely no interest in setting on the eggs – a major disappointment for me.

Chicken Snakes

Chicken snakes always seem to eventually show up when you have chickens. I usually like having them around since they are also known as rat snakes for a good reason. The trick is to gather the eggs regularly so they feed on rats and not on your eggs. If they get an egg or two every now and then, that’s OK with me. It’s part of the entertainment value of having chickens.

These were taken several years ago in my first chicken coop.

Once the snake has found the eggs, nothing seems to disturb his meal. I set up a camera and tripod and took a whole series of photos, and he completely ignored me. The process actually takes quite a while. Smaller snakes will circle the egg and then use their body to push against to force the egg into his mouth; larger snakes simply grab it and swallow. The egg eventually works its way down several inches until suddenly it breaks. You can actually hear the egg breaking as the lump flattens out. A bit creepy, perhaps, but fascinating nevertheless.

The white “egg” in the photos is plastic. Snakes are never fooled.

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