Tag Archives: Chickens

One Week to the Next

This weekend was not exactly balmy, but it was warm enough to continue melting the snow.  What a difference a week makes during spring in Minnesota!  It was only 9 days ago when we were dumped on and school was canceled because of all the snow. (See my last post).  Besides a few random piles here and there, all the snow is now gone.  Hooray!  (It is Minnesota though and more snow over the next month is a definite possibility).


Last weekend our vegetable garden had a foot of snow covering it.  Today?  No snow in sight and the rhubarb is even peeking out of the soggy soil.


The chickens were finally able to escape the coop and do some free-ranging after a long winter.  They headed for a dirt pile that we have and got busy scratching and doing whatever it is that chickens do.DSC_0115

The warmer temps allowed us to get outside and start working on all those spring chores.  I spent a lot of time walking around with my garden shears and cutting back various plants, like the Annabelle Hydrangea along the pole shed…

DSC_0110…And the ornamental grass, Sedum, coneflower, and miniature Joe Pye weed along the granary.

DSC_0120Jesse helped me clean up our raised beds with strawberries and blueberries.  We raked out the dead leaves, pulled some random weeds, and raked up some pine needles to freshen up the mulch.  This will be our third season with the blueberry plants and we are hoping that some of the big bushes finally produce a good amount of fruit.

DSC_0118We also found time to prepare for our baby chicks that are due to arrive some time at the end of next week.  They will be inside the house in this box for the first five days so that we can keep an eye on them and make sure to keep them warm and drinking water.

DSC_0122Jesse also cleaned out the brood boxes for his beehives and they are all ready for the new bees. We are not exactly sure when to expect them, but likely at the end of April.

Spring is definitely rolling along here in Minnesota and we could not be happier.  🙂



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More Chickens…Whether we need them or not

In the dark days of this past winter in Minnesota, we once again found ourselves paging through the McMurry Hatchery catalog and trying to decide if we should order some chicks again this spring.  We now have 7 laying hens who are keeping us well supplied with eggs (see their winter free-ranging escapades here).  In our freezer, we have about a half-dozen chickens remaining from our last batch of meat birds.  Although we probably did not need any more chickens, we could not resist and placed an order anyhow.

On April 21st, the phone rang early in the morning.  It was the post office letting us know that our chicks had arrived and were available to be picked up.  Yes, these cute little baby chicks got shipped from the hatchery to our post office in this box.

Our order this year was the following:

  • 18 Jumbo Cornish Rock Hens (meat birds)
  • 2 Partridge Cochins Hens
  • 2 White Polish Hens
  • 1 Aracuana Hen
  • 2 Dark Brahmas Hen
  • 1 Free Rare Exotic Bird
I was most excited about ordering the White Polish hens because they have never been available when I have ordered before.  When fully grown, these birds have a big plume of feathers on their head and I find them very comical.  Even as a baby chick you can see the beginnings of the hairdo on this little girl.

We picked them up at the post office and quickly got them settled into their new home – a box that we will keep in the house for about a week so that we can keep a close eye on them to make sure they are all eating and drinking.

Initially, we keep all the chicks together because they are about the same size and the numbers help them stay warm.

Another reason we keep them in the house at first is to protect them from their primary predator – our cats.  When I opened the windows for some fresh air on a nice day, Tiger heard their little peeps and could hardly resist trying to jump through the screen.  He spent a good part of the day gazing longingly into the sun room at the chicks in that box.

Just in case he slips into the house unnoticed, we keep a screen on top of the box as a second line of protection.  I am happy to report that unlike every previous year we have had chicks, to date the cats have been unsuccessful in scoring a tasty chick snack.

After about a week in the house, we moved the chicks out to the chicken coop and separated them into two different boxes:  the meat birds in one and the new laying hens in another.  The meat birds grow at an alarmingly fast rate and quickly outsize the layer chicks.  In fact, they grow so fast that we only kept them in their separate box for about another week before moving them into the barn where they have a lot more space.

The meat birds basically spend their days eating, drinking and messing up their pen.  These commercially developed hybrid birds are bred to only be interested in eating so they grow fast and tender.

They have already grown very big and are starting to fill in their feathers.  The cruel reality however, is that in another 3-4 weeks, we will load them all up and take them to a farm about an hour away for processing.  We will go pick them up about a week later…and they will provide many wonderful meals for our family.

Our new layer chicks on the other hand…well, they are still pretty darn cute.  They are growing steadily and all seem healthy.  Their feathers are starting to fill in and most of their chick fuzz is gone.

The White Polish hens are starting to sprout their crown of feathers now and they already make me laugh.

We have only lost one of the layer chicks.  I found her dead by the feeder one morning when I came out to the coop.  We know it was not the cats, but have no idea what caused her death.  Thankfully, everyone else seems to be doing great and in a month or so, their larger size should minimize the threat of any cat attacks.

Once they are bigger, we will slowly start to introduce them to the rest of the flock.  These gals should be laying eggs beginning some time in September or October.  We will have to start selling our overflow of eggs!

Maybe next year I will resist the urge to order more chicks…or then again, maybe not.


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Free-Ranging in January?

It has been a strange winter in Minnesota.  We have had a few coatings of snow here and there, but nothing has stuck around for an extended amount of time.  Even more unusual is the record-setting high temperatures we have had lately.  On the way home from work today, on the 10th of January, my car thermometer registered an outside temperature of 52F!

Normally, at this time of year we are putting a lot of effort into keeping our chickens warm.  With our average January temperatures usually in the teens, it can be a real challenge.  Not this year – not so far.

This year the chickens are having a really great winter.  They typically will not set foot outside the coop once there is snow on the ground.

In the bright sunshine and fifty degree temperatures today however, they enjoyed several hours of free-ranging around the farm.

They cover a lot of ground scratching, pecking, eating, or whatever they are doing, as they wander around the yard, into the woods, and through the gardens.

After the new hens from this spring started laying egg in the fall, we culled the old laying hens.  Down to just ten hens, we gave two away to Jesse’s brother, and then lost one to some sort of predator.  So, we now have only seven laying hens.

They are really dazzling and healthy looking birds.  All of them are prolific layers.  With our oldest away at school (he ate a lot of eggs), we can’t keep up with eating all of their eggs and we so we try to give some away when we can.

The black speckled hen on the left below is a Barred Rock and she lays brown eggs.

This gal is one of our three Araucana hens.  I always try to make sure we have at least one Araucana because I love the spectacular light blue and green eggs that they lay.

The white hen is a Light Brahma.  The feathered feet on this breed are so cute.  And even better, they are very reliable brown egg layers throughout the winter.

We ordered this assortment of laying hens last spring from Murray McMurray Hatchery, like we always do.  We have never been disappointed by the chicks we receive from them.  Our plan is to order more chicks for this spring – a few more laying hens and some meat birds.

It sounds as though our warm weather might end in the next few days.  Snow is predicted to fall as early as tomorrow and the chickens will inevitably choose to stay in the confines of their coop until the ground is bare once again.  Based on our winter so far, I am hoping they won’t have to wait until spring.


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Pesky Free-Rangers

We have put a lot of work into restoring our chicken coop from its original dilapidated condition.  The result is a very solid, safe, comfortable and cute home for our chickens.  Despite their fancy digs, our chickens love being outside any time there is not snow on the ground.

They spend hours wandering around, digging and laying in the dirt, eating grass, bugs and just doing their chicken thing.  I like the “idea” of having free-ranging chickens and I enjoy seeing them meandering around the farm.

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Filed under Animals, Chicken coop, Chickens, Outbuildings

Spring Fever

It’s official.  It’s that time of year.  The time of year when you can hardly wait for spring.  When thoughts of spring, basking in the warmth of the sun, green grass, bountiful gardens, and fresh flowers take over your mind.  But we need to wait.

The garden is waiting, waiting for the sun, so full of potential.  Waiting, waiting, waiting….

And the raspberry plants, they’re waiting too.  Waiting for the soil to warm so their leaves can burst out and set blossoms.

And the chickens.  The chickens are also waiting.  They are so patient, but they have spring fever too.  Afraid to hop out of the coop  on the snow all winter, they seriously contemplate it at this time of year.  They stand in the door of the coop, gazing outside, the strength of the sun enticing them, until…

…they can’t stand it anymore.  They finally take the plunge, after encouraging each other, and jump down on that scary snow (at least I think that is their thought process).

Spring fever makes even chickens do the craziest things.

The cats have spring fever too.  Waiting anxiously at the door each morning, they spend their days outside.  They lay on the porch basking in the sun.  Sometimes they go exploring, navigating through the melting snow, ice, and puddles.

And so we are all waiting for spring to arrive.  It feels closer every day.

I am not as patient as the gardens, chickens and cats though.  So I planned a trip to Mexico with my husband.  We leave tomorrow…and I can’t wait.

I hope that when we arrive home next week that spring is closer.  After a few days in the sun, I think I’ll be capable of a lot more patience.  Until next week….

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Keeping the chickens warm

Winters in Minnesota get cold.  Really cold.  On January 2nd, we woke up to temperatures of -30 degrees F.  We have 11 laying hens that we do our best to keep somewhat comfortable during these frigid winter months.  One of the strategies that we use is to bank snow up against the coop to help insulate and minimize any draftiness.  The walls of the coop are insulated too, which helps a lot, although I am certain that not many chicken coops were insulated on original working farms of our parent’s generation.

Inside the coop, we keep a heat lamp running to generate some heat for the chickens and to help keep the water thawed out.  Jesse also keeps the water font sitting on top of a homemade font heater for the really cold days. The font heater is made from a thermostatic controlled heating element in an upside down drain oil pan.

The windows on the coop are single pane windows, so this year Jesse decided to add an interior plexiglass panel to decrease the heat loss out the windows.  We believe it has made a big difference in helping the coop stay warmer, but we have had some condensation issues when the outside temperatures rise.

Layer chickens can drink anywhere from 1 to 2 cups of water each day.  During this latest cold snap, it seems as though the chickens have been going through a LOT of water. It is nice to have the water hydrant close to the coop for quick fill-ups.

Here are the chickens  all cozy and looking for scratch grains that I toss them for a treat.

We were away from home for one night and the chickens filled the nest boxes. You can see that we have a couple of Aracaunas that lay the green eggs.


Filed under Chicken coop, Chickens, Outbuildings