Our flock is now almost four years old. This is the first year when their egg laying has completely ceased during their annual fall molt. Telling you that we miss their eggs is a huge understatement! We are down to our last dozen. However, a few days ago, as I lifted the nesting box lid, I discovered Feathers as she gracefully got up from the nesting box. As I peered down into the box, I discovered an egg. I was ecstatic. The eggs had returned.
Yet, this one was different. I scooped it up. It was warm but instead of feeling a shell, it felt rubbery. It was squishy. I could see the yolk inside this silly normal sized egg. We had fun with her egg, as it sat above the kitchen window for the last few days. It was a show and tell, a real "wow" kind of story that the kids were thrilled to share with their friends.
As each day passed, the egg lost a little of its oomph, until yesterday when it looked like a pathetic deflated balloon. The rubbery coating on the outside had turned into more of a solid. It felt and looked like stale angel food cake, so into the garbage it went. Since that egg was laid over three days ago, no other eggs have been gifted to our family from the flock. It's amazing how we cherished Feather's pathetic odd egg. I think in some weird way, it gave us a bit of hope, that soon enough the eggs will return.
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Even if you don't keep bees you can certainly help them in and around your yard. There are little steps that make a huge difference in these tiny workers' lives. In fact, it can even help your gardens and yard to grow and thrive by allowing not only the bees but other beneficial bugs, butterflies and other pollinators to safely live in their environments.
By removing natural fields and weeds and replacing them with lush, green, weed -free lawns, we have removed vast amounts of land where honeybees thrived. If possible, allow the meadows to return. Clover is one of the honeybee's favorite flowers and it readily grows in the healthiest of lawns. Why not consider letting your lawn grow patches of clover and let it bloom? Dandelions are also a spring time favorite of theirs too. Dandelions tell them that warmer weather is arriving. Often the dandelions are the first blooms upon which they feed after a long winter contained in their hives.
Whether it is herbicides or pesticides you should start reading the labels. Specifically seek out information whether or not the chemicals you are using are harmful to bees. This information is often hidden in the fine print but is required to be there by law. Research alternative methods to battle bugs and weeds. These include white vinegar, cayenne pepper and insecticidal soaps. Also, just because a product is organic it does not mean that it cannot harm honeybees and other pollinators.
Hours and Timing of Application
Apply products to plants when they are not blooming if possible. Honeybees would not spend time on a plant without blooms. Apply the products during the very early morning hours or at dusk. During these times honeybees are more likely to be in their hives verses outside in the garden.
Honeybees are most attracted to purple blooms. They love Russian Sage, Lavender, purple Butterfly bushes, Coneflowers (Echinacea), and Liatris to name a few.
Last year, the US lost approximately 40% of their hives during the winter. This set a new devastating record. The honey bees are in trouble. Explore becoming a beekeeper or allowing a beekeeper to place a hive or two on your property.
Be Politically Active
Follow the current bills at the local, state and federal levels that are helping to research colony collapse disease, restrict and ban chemicals that are proving fatal the bees, and help to stabilize their populations. The bees can't speak for themselves but you certainly can!
For more information on beekeeping, backyard chickens, gardening, recipes and crafting, please come visit me on www.tillysnest.com.
Egg Eating, a form of cannibalism, is a terrible habit that some chicken develop over time. It can start for numerous reasons including nutritional deficiencies, curiosity and boredom. Chickens are very smart and it does not take long for them to realize that not only do eggs taste good but they are a great source of protein. It is important when keeping a backyard flock that you are aware of this potential problem and take steps in your flock's living area and life to help prevent this problem from ever beginning.
Here are some helpful tips to help prevent your flock from starting this behavior:
1. Feed your flock a layer feed containing at least 16% protein
2. Limit the treats and kitchen scraps that you feed your flock.
3. Share high protein treats with your flock including dried meal worms, sunflower seeds and plain yogurt (no artificial ingredients or sweeteners)
4. Keep nesting boxes up off the ground. This helps keep the eggs out of sight and out of mind.
5. Harvest your eggs at least 2-3 times per day.
6. Provide your flock with free access to oyster shells or recycled eggshells to help form thicker eggshells.
7. Be sure the eggs have a soft place to land in the nesting box.
8. Be sure to provide plenty of fresh water, some chicken start eating eggs when water is scarce.
9. Be sure the chickens have plenty of space and if you are able to safely, allow free-ranging.
10. Never feed your chickens eggs that still look like eggs or shells. Do not be tempted to toss a cracked eggs into the run for the chickens to devour. You can feed your chickens scrambled eggs or crush the eggshells into small unrecognizable pieces.
11. Keep nesting boxes dark.
12. Be sure you have at least one nesting box per 4 laying hens.
If the egg eating behavior has already begun, it is important that most of the above suggestions have been implemented. In addition, you can try these added measures to try and treat the problem:
1. If you know which chicken is guilty, then remove them from the flock immediately. Others will learn the behavior from them. If they continue to eat eggs, try rehoming them, sometimes a change of scenery can stop a bad habit.
2. According to the University of Florida, filling a dish with milk and allowing chickens to drink it decreased the egg eating behavior.
3. The University of Florida also suggests beating an egg into a creamy consistency, stir in 2 teaspoons of black pepper and pour it on the coop floor. The taste will stop hens from eating their eggs.
4. Create slanted nesting boxes that allow freshly laid eggs to roll down into a secret collection area that the chickens cannot access.
5. Try adding golf balls to the nesting boxes.
6. Clean up every bit of the broken egg. Leave no traces behind. Change out any bedding that has egg on it.
7. Try filling an empty egg shell with mustard. The chickens will not enjoy the taste. Interestingly, hot sauce does not work on birds, they can't taste it.
8. Try pinless peepers.
9. Try adding distractions, such as a hanging ball of cabbage.
10. Be sure you actually have a hen eating your eggs, it is not uncommon in certain areas for snakes to enter chicken coops and swallow whole eggs.
I think there comes a time in most flocks, for whatever reason, an egg cracks and a curious chicken decides to indulge. This happened once to our flock when we were on vacation. My guess, is that the eggs were not being harvested enough during the day. Upon our return during the following few days, we went out checking for eggs religiously every few hours. Luckily, this single measure alone stopped their behavior. Since then, no one has eaten any eggs, well that is, except for us.
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It has been almost 1 year since I started out on beekeeping. I hardly know everything, but the learning curve has been steep and I can say with confidence that I am a beekeeper. I read all that I could get my hands on. I took a local beekeeping class and joined the local beekeeper's association. I networked with those around me. My bees survived their first year and so did I. Today, I thought that I would share with you some very important tips that I have picked up along this past year's journey. I cannot guarantee that these will work for you, but I can certainly share what has worked for me.
Feed your bees. From most preliminary data gathered this year, it seems that most of my fellow beekeeper's hives perished this winter from starvation. Bees need to eat and sometimes, we are located in places and climates less than optimal for them. All too often, Mother Nature does not provide as much as we would like. Be sure to check the feeders once per week. Try to keep them refilled on a regular consistent basis.
Become a believer in Honey B Healthy. This stuff works. It smells great and I believe really helped my hives to get off to a great start. It is also wonderful to mist on your bees instead of the smoker.
Keep more than one hive. Two hive are truly better than one. Keeping two hives allows you to make comparisons between the two and become aware of issues earlier, discover what is "normal" vs. "abnormal", allows you to combine hives if one is not thriving come the colder seasons and also helps you to re-queen a hive absent of a queen and any brood.
Find a Mentor. If are lucky enough to find a mentor who has at least kept bees successfully for 3 years than consider yourself to have one of the greatest assets in the hobby. Treat them to lunch or dinner now and then and the relationship will grow and thrive. It is a nice way to return the favor of their time and expertise.
Never underestimate the supply of bobby pins at the local drug store come spring. Every spring around here there is a huge shortage because folks are building their frames and support the foundation with bobby pins. Watch all year round for sales and pick them up during alternative times. They will sell out.
Watch Sugar Prices. Hungry bees can gobble up to 5 pounds or more of sugar in a week. Look for sales and watch the club stores. Always keep an extra 10 pound bag on hand for those unexpected situations.
Check on your bees. Open your hives on sunny warm days when the bees are flying and the breeze is minimal. Take a quick assessment and be sure there are signs of the queen. It is not always necessary to find the queen. Just be sure she is there, laying a healthy pattern of brood. Be sure to assess for any pests, parasites or signs of disease.
Watch your bees. Get in the habit of watching your bees from outside the hive. See if they are returning to the hive loaded down with pollen. Monitor for robber bees. Watch for any signs of impostors entering the hives and be on alert for bee predators such as skunks.
Follow beekeeping practices as others do in your area of the country. Be sure that you are adapting practices of keeping bees that are appropriate for your gardening zone and climate. Some folks never deal with freezing weather. Some people harvest honey year round. Some beehives spend all winter covered in snow.
A favorite treat following the week of Easter is a good egg salad sandwich. We always have an abundance of colored hard boiled eggs and this is an easy way to use some of them up. The ingredients are quite simple and can be made in a pinch. I think the secret that makes this such a delicious version of egg salad is using cornichons. Cornichons are small French pickles packed with flavor. I purchase them from Trader Joes but they should be readily found in the specialty food section of the grocery. Spread this easy salad between a nice crusty roll or toasted piece of French baguette for a wow factor
6 hard-boiled eggs chilled
1/3 cup mayonnaise-adjust to your preferred consistency
2 tablespoons diced sweet yellow onion
6 cornichons-cut into small round "coins"
Salt and pepper to taste
Dice the hard boiled eggs into bite sized pieces. Add them to a medium mixing bowl. Add the mayonnaise, onion, cornichons, salt and pepper. Mix until everything is well incorporated and coated with mayonnaise. Spread between two slices of bread.
Just like raising children, people have many different opinions and styles regarding how to raise and keep a flock of backyard chickens. Time and time again my heart breaks when I see people telling others that there is only one correct way to do things. There are many ways to do things and do them well. We are very lucky to have so many wonderful options out there to help provide our chickens with a wonderful quality of life.
There are many ways to feed your chickens...
Do you choose organic feed?
What kinds of treats?
Do you add supplements like food grade diatomaceous earth?
Do you let them have free access to as much food as they like or do you limit their daily intake?
Do you share scraps from you table with them?
Do you give them dairy products?
What types of feeders do you use-hanging, trough, PVC tube dispenser, a rubber bowl?
There are many ways to give water to your chickens...
Do you use tap water?
Do you give them water from the hose?
Do you use a metal or plastic waterer?
Do you use a nipple waterer?
Do you use a large black rubber bowl?
Do you add anything to the water like vitamins and electrolytes, apple cider vinegar or make them tea?
If you do add supplements to their water, how often do you do it?
When your chickens are ill...
Do you take them to the vet?
Do you cull them?
Do you separate them from the flock?
Do you keep them in with the flock?
Do you bring them in the house?
Do you give them medicine?
There are many ways to house chickens...
Do they have a little house or a big house?
What material is it made out of?
How do you provide shade for your flock?
Do you cover the run?
Do you keep a light on in the coop in the Winter to keep up egg production?
Do you use straw, pine shavings, hay or a combination?
Do you keep decoy eggs in the nesting boxes?
There are many ways to predator proof...
Do you use hardware cloth or chicken wire?
Did you bury the wiring all the way around the coop?
Do you let your flock free-range?
Do you keep them confined?
Do you lock up all the coop doors at night?
My advice is to investigate for yourself. When you discover something that might work for your flock or your coop seek out more than just opinions. Seek out reputable sources with evidence based facts. As you can see from above, just like life there is never one way to do things. Sometimes, certain thing work better for different breeds, during different seasons and climates and in different places across the globe. Sometimes you may have to try a few things in order to determine what works best. Sometimes what works for one person will not work for you. The best advice I can share is to do what works best for you. After all, no one knows your flock better than you.
Today, I am sharing the conclusion of my five part series in getting started with backyard chickens. Raising chickens has been a very easy experience. I would highly recommend it to everyone that is interested. It is addictive and provides fresh eggs for you and your family as well as many other life lessons. Spring time is almost here and so are the chicks at your local feed and grain stores.
Most pullets will begin laying eggs around 20 weeks. However, don't be surprised if you are waiting until 6 months of age for your first egg. Larger breeds take longer to get there. Remember, you will need one nesting box per four chickens. Often, one box turns out to be everyone's favorite. It is not uncommon that I find two chickens in the same box laying eggs, while the other boxes remain empty!
Once chickens reach 20 weeks of age, make sure that you have plenty of calcium available to your flock. This will help the chickens create nice strong eggshells. Some individuals even refeed the chickens' egg shells back to them. Spread the egg shells on a baking sheet. In an oven on low, dry the egg shells to remove the moisture. Once removed from the oven and cooled, gently crush the egg shells into small unrecognizable pieces. These can now be re-fed to the chickens.
Sometimes, though rare, you will find that one of your girls becomes egg bound. This can happen for a number of reasons. The egg becomes stuck in the vent and you will need to assist the egg out of the chicken. If you can visualize the egg, you can help. Wrap your chicken's head and body in a towel, keeping the back end exposed. I find this keeps the chicken calm. With some Vaseline, gently lubricate the egg and try to coax it out of the vent, taking great care not to break it. There are techniques available as well if you cannot visualize the egg. After success, you will see that the vent area will have pink tissue exposed. The vent is prolapsed. Apply some Neosporin and if severe, Preparation H to the vent area and place the chicken in a dark (does not stimulate egg laying) warm place to rest. Be sure to provide food and water. After a day or so, return her to her flock. Hopefully, the next egg she lays will be easier for her to pass.
You will find that your chickens love to eat kitchen scraps as well as tasty findings around the yard that they discover on their journeys. Once pullets reach egg laying age, they should be eating layer grade food. Roosters are fine to eat layer pellets. It does not harm them in any way.
Chickens love to eat apples, berries, breads, broccoli, corn, cucumbers, lettuces and greens, melons, oatmeal, rice, squash, zucchini, grapes tomatoes and pumpkins. Chickens should NOT EAT salt, citrus, processed foods from the kitchen, potato peels, avocados, sodas/carbonated beverages, chocolate, coffee/coffee grounds and onions. They should also avoid greasy foods as well. Kitchen scraps should always be fed in moderation. The chickens will lay best if they primarily eat their layer pellets. Here is a more thorough list.
I also supplement my flock's diet with food grade diatomaceous earth and I put apple cider vinegar with the mother in it in their water, 1 tablespoon per gallon, as well as electrolytes and vitamins during times of stress. In addition, once a week, I give them organic plain yogurt. In my experience, it does not give my chickens diarrhea. It helps with preventing egg eating and also acts as another calcium source.
Depending on where you live, there are many predators that would like to have your flock for their next meal. If you are a responsible flock owner and you take proper precautions, the risk of losing one of your beloved chickens to a predator can be minimized. Potential predators include fox, coyotes, bob cats, fisher cats, raccoons, weasels, rats, snakes and hawks. Here are some helpful tips:
1. Use predator proof locks on all your coop’s and run’s doors.
2. Use only ½ inch hardware cloth on your coop and run. Do not use chicken wire.
3. Bury the hardware cloth 18 inches around the perimeter of your run and coop, bending the bottom portion of the buried wire out a couple of inches. This will help deter digging predators.
4. Remember to lock up your flock every night in the coop.
5. Install motion activated lighting near your coop.
4. Remember to lock up your flock every night in the coop.
5. Install motion activated lighting near your coop.
We never intended on having a rooster. However, because Sikie Bantams are difficult to sex, we ended up with two roosters. Unfortunately Peanut was rehomed and Chocolate was too. If you decide to keep a rooster, you will need to take a few more steps to be sure that he does not become a nuisance to those around you. I would also recommend that you check with your local laws and verify that you can keep a rooster.
Roosters are noisy and do not crow only during the daylight hours. Roosters will crow at any time of the day, even in the middle of the night. They crow for several reasons, not only due to light exposure. They crow to assert their territory, ward off danger and to alert the flock. When keeping a rooster, you need to be respectful of your neighbor's rights. Like barking dogs, rooster can become annoying to those within earshot.
1. Keep your rooster in the coop during evening and early morning hours.
2. If your rooster crows for more than 5 minutes consistently, investigate the cause.
3. Provide distractions to help with crowing, such as treats and scratch.
4. Discuss the rooster with your neighbors. Consider sharing your eggs with them. A dozen eggs can create an amicable relationship with your neighbors.
5. Welcome neighbors to stop in and visit your flock. The chickens might enjoy your neighbors bringing them treats like celery and lettuce.
6. Re-home aggressive roosters.
Hens go broody when they seek to hatch some babies of their own. Often you will know that a hen has gone broody, because she sits on the nest even when it is empty. Broodiness, if let to run its course, lasts about 20 days. While she is broody, she will briefly come off the nest one or two times per day to eat, drink and poop. There are techniques that you can try to break a hen of its broodiness. In my opinion, they are cruel. I prefer to let nature run its course. It is a good habit to harvest the eggs from the nesting boxes a few times per day. This helps to decrease broodiness. Be sure to keep a fresh supply of water and food close too. She will not venture too far away from her nest, eggs or no eggs.
If you have a broody hen and a rooster, you can try hatching some of your eggs. A hen will sit on any fertilized eggs. You can even purchase eggs from a hatchery, if you have a broody hen. You can also incubate eggs on your own with an incubator.
Either way, it takes anywhere from 19-21 days to hatch eggs. If you are hatching eggs the natural way, you will need to create a brooder and a safe haven for the mother hen to be! Also, it is a good idea to set up visitation of the broody hen with her original flock. This way they remember each other. It will be easier to reintroduce them with minimal disturbance of the pecking order and avoid you having to deal with broody poop!
Be sure to candle your eggs at about one week and then at 14 days to determine that they remain viable. Eggs that are not fertilized or no longer have developing fetuses within them will turn rotten. They can emit harmful gases and can even explode! It is best to remove them as soon as possible.
At some point sooner or later, one of your chickens will be under the weather. It is best to remove that chicken from the rest of the flock. Some people will cull their chickens once they appear ill. I take mine to a veterinarian that specializes in birds/chickens. There have been two instances where the vet has helped restore my chickens' health. Although there is a lot of information on the internet about dealing with sick chickens, it is my opinion that they should only serves as guides. It is always best, when available in your area, to see the chicken vet. They are the experts. They had many years of schooling regarding avian illnesses and they cannot be replaced by the internet.