Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘chicken coop’

Example of a Naked Neck Turken (not our photo)

Example of a Naked Neck Turken (not our photo)

She wan’t the prettiest of hens.  No — she was kind of funny looking.  OK — to be honest — she was just downright ugly.  I would joke that she was “coyote ugly,” but comparing anything to those stinking vile vermin at this time is not appropriate.  Back to the naked neck.  She was the last of the flock of 25 hens purchased for Tammi after her mother passed last year.  Tammi was so thrilled when the box of little peeps arrived.  In a few months, they blossomed into an eclectic flock of fancies — 5 varieties in all.  We had the fluffy Delawares and their docile dispositions, and the Black Australorps with their turquoise eggs, and the Americaunas with their pheasant-like appearance, and the Buff Orpingtons and their rich brown eggs — and five goofy looking turkey-like no-feathers-on-the-neck chickens that Tammi declared her favorites — the Naked Neck Turkens.

Every day, for nearly a year, we were overwhelmed with 12 to 18 eggs from this crew — a cornucopia of color.  We purchased a crate of “Local Hens” egg cartons and listed our produce for sale. Everyone who tried them loved them.

“You have the best eggs!” was heard a hundred times. “Can I get more?”

We had a couple incidents over the year.  There was an obvious hawk or owl attack here and there.  The circle of feathers on the ground — in one spot and nowhere else — was the clue.

When the revonations were being done to the summer kitchen this past Winter, one of the workmen reported seeing a “big fox” near the henhouse one day.  This creature was seen a couple times — and the men scared it off.  They boldly decided to begin using the back of our property as their urinal in order to ward off the beast.  It seemed to work.

When the men finished working, we were ecstatic to begin living in our house again.  The new kitchen (see the pics in a prior entry) and the second bathroom were very functional.  We were delighted. By then, we were down to 20 chickens.  We were still retreiving at least about a dozen eggs a day.

Now early March, the ewes began lambing. It was still very cold. There was snow on the ground. That’s when the first attack occurred.  Tammi discovered one of the lambs buried in the snow, its jugular severed by the fangs of a coyote. There were tracks in the snow from possibly two of the canids.  We became very worried about the lambs — especially at night.

Stock photo of a Pennsylvania Coyote

Stock photo of a Pennsylvania Coyote

Over the next few weeks, we lost 5 of our 8 lambs.  Three were killed by coyotes and two were born weak and couldn’t be saved.  Fortunately, three have survived — Samson, the young black ram, and his cousins Delilah (a black ewe) and Ezekial (Zeke), who resembles a highlander.  All this time, the chickens were doing fine — following their routine — which included free ranging during the day and being locked in their coop at night.

Then came Bloody Thursday – April 2.  Tammi returned from work and called saying she saw a dead chicken in the field.  As soon as I arrived home, we investigated and were sickened to find a dozen of our beauties lying dead — scattered about their paddock — all mostly or completely intact. It was like Jonestown — but with chickens.  A quick count showed only four alive — and another 3 or 4 missing.  Tammi called them in, but none came.  Sadly, we collected the bodies and made a pile of them in the compost.  We were down to four — two of which were Naked Necks, one Australorp, and one Americanauna.

The war with the coyotes began.  Those nights, immediately after the massacre, I waited quietly, in the wee hours, with my rifle as the vermin returned to collect their kills.  Twice, I was able to get off shots in their direction.  It was hard to tell, but I may have hit them.  Unfortunately, in the dark, at that range, I could not drop them.  But, they ran off.  And, for over a week, they did not return.

Then, one by one, in broad daylight, a chicken would disappear.  There were no circles of feathers — no evidence of eagles or owls.  One by one, we think, our remaining birds were nabbed in “grab-and-go” attacks by a coyote.  One by one, the Australorp, then the Americauana, and then the Naked Neck — leaving just one ugly Naked Neck — the ugliest of the uglies — so ugly, even a hungry coyote hadn’t killed her, yet.

Now she’s gone. We have no idea where. She never said goodbye. There was no evidence of her death. And, she left us one last brown egg a couple days ago. I just enjoyed it for breakfast, wondering what had come of her. I’d like to think she’s off free ranging like the hen in the Geico commercial.  Maybe she’ll text Tammi — sending some pictures of her travels — but so far, not a single selfie has come across.

No, we fear our last Naked Neck Turken was not “coyote ugly” after-all.  We think she was also nabbed like her sisters.

Now the coop is empty — quietly peaceful.  We just think about Tammi’s mother a lot more.

 

Read Full Post »

Bakaaaaawwwwwk!  Bakwaaaaaaak!  came the cry in the wee hours of the morning.  The sun was providing a hint of the day to come as I arose to the alarming cry from our last leghorn hen.  I knew it was not a good sound and quickly dressed.

“Something is after the chicken,” I said to Tammi, who was waking to my activity.

“Oh no! Not the last one!” she said.

I grabbed a flashlight and headed out the door.   I didn’t bother with the .22.  I figured the murdering varmint was long gone.  Sure enough, by the coop, there was a pile of white feathers, like someone had dumped out a pillow.  There was a trail leading to it from the pasture fence, and then a trail heading back toward the barn.  I followed the trail to the barn and looked around, shining the light in the stalls.  There was no sign of the chicken or the critter that took her away.

Thus ended the “25 Chicken Experiment” begun late last winter, before we moved.  One had died in a coop accident (see earlier entry). Eighteen were sold at a profit.  This left six that we allowed to free range since the spring.  Unfortunately, we lost about one a month, on average.

Plans for two additional chicken experiments are already underway — laying hens and meat chickens.  We will keep them separate on opposite sides of the coop.  I doubt we will try free range again — perhaps sticking with a fenced in paddock.  We will keep you posted!

Read Full Post »

“Mommy!  Mommy! One of the chickens is dead!  The metal thing fell on it, Mommy!” came Brandon’s cry from the back porch as Tammi was putting the dishes away.  It had been a peaceful Tuesday morning up to that point.

Sure enough, upon inspection, the small ten-unit nesting box had come loose and fallen over.  Unfortunately, one of the lady leghorns was not quick enough to escape the sudden force from the metal contraption. It’s legs stuck out of the bottom like the similarly unfortunate Wicked Witch of the East in The Wizard of Oz.  Tammi lifted up the nesting box and put it in place. Brandon stooped down in front of the bird.

“It’s not moving, Mommy. It’s definitely dead,” proclaimed my stepson like a junior coroner at a murder scene.

“I know honey,” said Tammi. “It’s a shame.”

“Are you goin’ to tell Baron?” he asked.

“Let’s bury her first,” said Tammi.

The two solemnly carried the chicken down to the compost pile, dug a hole, and laid lady leghorn #25 to rest.  It probably looked like a scene out of the Sopranos, except that it was daytime rather than two in the morning. The call came to me at work a few minutes later.

“We lost a chicken this morning,” said my bride, solemnly.

“What?” said I, “Did something get in the coop?”  I was imaging a weasel wreaking havoc on our little ladies.

“No — it was crushed by the nesting box that tumbled over…,” she explained.

I was immediately struck by a complete sense of responsibility.  I had killed that chicken through my own ineptitude as a rookie farmer.  I had committed unintentional third-degree chicken-slaughter and was feeling every bit guilty.

“Damn!” said I, “Damn — it’s all my fault!”

Unfortunately, this little episode spooked our ladies again — that made three incidents in the last two weeks — the evil space robot chicken feeder, the township fireworks, and now the death of one of their own right before their eyes.  After catching the birds and returning them to the coop, we decided it was time to downsize.

“I am afraid we just have too many,” I said to my bride, convinced we needed to reduce our flock.

“Really?” said my lady in a tone only a wife can make when reminding her husband she had made a similar suggestion some time ago.

“Yep — put ’em on Craig’s List — $6 each or 2 for $10,” I ordered.

And so it was done — within a couple days 18 of the 24 remaining birds were sent packing for a cool return of $90 cash.  We decided to keep six — enough to provide for us and a little extra.

Tammi set about creating a fenced-in run outside the coop with a small paddock for the birds to “free-range.”  We also downsized the coop, pulling out the two nesting units and replacing them with a three-box wooden one from the barn.  We removed all of the old hay and replaced it.  We then caught the six birds in the barn and placed them in their transformed home.

“How many eggs have we gotten out of this?” I asked my bride as I was raking the chicken poop.

“Uh….none,” she said.

Read Full Post »

Last week, while driving home from York with one of the now fixed feral cats, the feline couldn’t hold its bladder, leaving a small puddle of pungent liquid on the back bench of the F150 — despite it being adequately covered. The next morning, the odor was unbearable, forcing me to abandon the vehicle to the wife in a fit of rage. “You’re responsible!” said I, as if poor Tammi had been the one leaking in the back. I went to work angry, worried about how it was going to be cleaned.

Late in the morning, I became so worried it was going to be cleaned improperly, I called Tammi to no avail. So, I headed home to see what was up. I also needed to vacuum my car a bit to make it presentable to some coworkers who were to be lunch partners. As I arrived in the driveway, there was no F150 — no Tammi — and no Brandon (who was now off school for the summer). Perplexed, I set about cleaning my car when the large animal vet pulled into the driveway for his scheduled visit. Tammi had forgotten to cancel the meeting meant to review the health of our goats and sheep — especially the pregnant ewe.

I showed the doc around myself, apologizing for Tammi’s absence.  Fortunately, the doc was able to see Twinx and Nellie, the old goats. He was not able to see the sheep, who were out in the field. After a few minutes of examining teeth, hooves and front legs, the doc declared the pair as “very old” – especially Twinx. Apparently she had worn her teeth down to nothing. Both were diagnosed with arthritis and possibly encephalitis. Both were given less than a year to live. “I will prescribe some pain medication to keep them comfortable,” he said. I had no idea they were both in such horrible shape. “They both have lived well past their normal life expectancy” he continued. I was relieved to hear the prior owner had taken great care of them. I knew we needed to tell him of their pending demise.

I returned to work, not having seen Tammi or Brandon. The vet left not seeing the sheep – especially the pregnant ewe.

About an hour later, I received a call at work from Tammi.  She reported Brandon had been out in the field looking for the sheep and stumbled upon a newborn lamb with its mother!  All appeared well.  Tammi jumped to action to find some way to separate the mother and baby into a holding area to be sure they bonded. It turned out this was unnecessary – the bond was obviously strong and the mother was providing more than enough nourishment, though we did worry a bit on the second day.

We discussed the fact that dinner may just have been born. Given my mood about the cat odor and the missed vet appointment, I was still not happy. But, when I returned home that evening and saw Tammi pick up the newborn lamb, I knew another bond had just occurred. There was no way we could butcher the poor thing (I am talking about the lamb, not the wife). It was just too damned cute and my wife had found something else to care about. I realized, some day Tammi will be a wonderful grandmother. Her mothering instincts are amazing!

So, the talk around the farm and at the office was all about the baby lamb. Brandon had declared it was a boy and that he would name it. I suggested we wait until the sex is confirmed. In the meantime, if it is a young ram, my stepson has declared it to be Ram Bam — an appropriate monicker if he should be anything like his father.

That Saturday my parents dropped in to visit from Alabama. They looked about the farm and were enamored with the baby lamb. After some small talk and a tour, we headed out to an antique mall to look for some items and pass some time. One of the items I found for less than 20 dollars was an old metal chicken feeder painted with a Taneytown (Maryland) Feed Mill advertisement. It was a legitimate old antique with a lot of eye appeal. “What better to feed our chickens than an antique feeder!” I declared, confidently carrying it to the check out. “I am actually going to use this,” I said the the clerk with a smile.

When we got back to the farm, Dad, Tammi and I filled it and hung it in the coup. We then continued our visit. After Mom and Dad left, Tammi and I settled in for a movie — The Descendants.  We highly recommend the film, but about halfway through, there was a huge boom outside — almost like the Battle of Gettysburg was being relived in our front yard.  Poor Gertie, who had been laying asleep on the wood plank floor, jumped awake, startled and confused.

“What was that?” asked Tammi.

“Township fireworks!” I replied. We headed to the porch and watched a spectacular display of pyrotechnics lasting a good 20 minutes. “Impressive for Monroe Township!” I declared.

“Sure beats Harrisburg!” said Tammi. Both of us reflected on that comment — realizing it meant a lot more than just the fireworks.

After it was over, I quickly went to close the chicken coop and returned to the house for the remainder of the movie.

In the morning, I went out to retrieve the Sunday paper and open the coop. I was surprised to find all but three of the chickens out in the yard. “What the…?” I thought. I realized I had not checked them before I closed the door. I went inside to tell Tammi.

“The chickens were out all night!” I said. “They were probably spooked by the fireworks.”

Later that day, Tammi noticed none of the chickens were going in the coop — not even to feed.

“It wasn’t the fireworks, Baron,” she said to me. “It’s that damn antique feeder!”

“What?” said I in disbelief. “Get the f*ck out!”

We went to the coop and switched the familiar plastic feeder back in for the antique.

“Money well spent!” said the wife, sarcastically as I hid the blasted thing in the corner.

“I guess this metal contraption scared the hell out of them!” I said. “To them it probably looked like a robot from outer space!”

While the chickens did return to eat, they did not return to sleep. So, we were forced to catch them in the barn, where they were roosting and returned them to the coop. The next day, the same thing happened — chickens did not return. So, we caught them again and cooped them up — this time for three days. We’ll know the results soon…

Read Full Post »

It’s not long before a “back-to-the-lander” neophyte farmer discovers the real meaning of farming — waste removal — as in the shoveling, hauling and otherwise cleaning of one’s barn, coop and/or self of sh*t!

It all started with a squish under the foot one evening — that soon revealed a very fragrant and acrid odor that could be only one thing — dog sh*t. Apparently the farmer’s wife had been training Gertie, her puppy, that it is perfectly fine to do her business at the foot of the stone steps that lead to the upper pasture. Scatological Ruminant #1 – Do not train your dog to sh*t where thee tread!

Next was the realization about the little lady leghorns. We had them in a kiddie pool until they outgrew it. Every day, we would change the newspaper. When they were tiny, they left cute little poops — imagine little fluffy yellow balls emitting tiny little pellets — essentially the chick feed they were eating just passing through. Of course, as they migrated to the coop, things got a little more complicated. We spread straw on the floor and let them loose. As the birds grew rapidly, so did their excretions. Thank God, we eventually let them out all day! I can’t imagine a coop of cooped up poop! So, I had to empty the growing pen, where our little pullets grew from chicks to maturity. It was a dusty affair – straw and pungent poo. But, I managed to get it all into one wheel barrow. Scatological Ruminant #2 – When someone says “chicken sh*t!” in anger, and they are not a farmer, they have no idea what they are really saying or complaining about. If they are a farmer, then you know they are referring to a real mess!

The previous owner of our farm stopped by one day to ask permission to remove some of the goat and sheep sh*t in the barn. “Good for the garden,” he said — and proceeded to shovel as much as he could into the back of his pickup.

“Take as much you like!” said I.

I imagined a conversation between Cheech and Chong — the former farmer was an old hippie-type.

“Yeah, it’s good sh*t, man — really good sh*t” said imaginary Chong farmer.

“What do you call this ch*t, man?” said imaginary Cheech farmer.

“It’s goat sh*t, man,” said Chong farmer, “like Nubian or something like that!”

“Hehehe!”, giggled Cheech farmer, “Let’s do some Nubian Doobian!”

Scatological Ruminant #3 – This ain’t the kind of sh*t you can smoke, unfortunately!

Back to reality — he was taking a portion of what was in one stall. There was an entire other stall where our critters were currently living — full of the stuff!

So, this Saturday morning, at the crack of dawn, like a good farmer and his wife would, Tammi and I headed to that stall full of straw and goat and sheep sh*t and began to break away at it and shovel it. We had set our sights on clearing the whole thing this morning, but soon realized we could barely get in the door — after three loads.

“Oh my God!” said Tammi, “I hope the whole thing isn’t this deep!”

I felt like an archaeologist digging up a  Mayan Temple in the Yucatan — removing layer upon layer until we hit stone — or concrete.

“It’s six inches thick here!” said I “It’s going to talk all summer!”

It was getting hot, so we resolved to return a couple times a week to chip away at it.

Scatological Ruminant #4:  Don’t let your sh*t pile up too much — gotta stay on top of all of this sh*t — gotta keep up with the sh*t….God this sounds like work!

Just one more humorous item. While Tammi was scraping with the blade, she accidentally sprayed my face with a splattering of poo and straw…

“Gives a whole new meaning to sh*t-faced…” she said.

Read Full Post »

There was enough old wood lying around the barn to build a small house.  We had also found a good amount of chicken wire in various places — all of the materials to finish off our chicken coop. Our little leghorn ladies had been living in the 8×8 enclosed room in the sty.  Now, the plan was to finish off the open section of the building, making it into a very comfortable 8×16 chicken coop for 25 egg laying machines!

Early Saturday morning, I began measuring and cutting the wood using the old Stanley circular saw I had purchased from the same man who sold me a used snowblower a few weeks back. Any time you get a chance to buy used tools on the cheap, it is usually worthwhile.  The old Stanley circular saw ran like a charm and I managed to keep all of my appendages.  The key was the two used folding saw horses that were in the yellow wagon with the cupholder — at the auction last week.  I hadn’t realized what they were – it was almost like they appeared before my eyes when I opened them up to discover their purpose!

After the coop was framed out sufficiently, I moved the nesting boxes inside. I then nailed up additional supporting boards at various points, anticipating the need to staple the chicken wire into something.  When I was ready for the wire, Tammi joined me and did the stapling. Within an hour, we had a completely enclosed chicken coop with 25 galvanized nesting boxes. We temporarily boarded up the side exit – previously used by the pigs who inhabited the place in years past to go outside.  We planned to open this up in a week when the hens were ready to experience the outside.

Finally, around 11 am, we were ready to transfer the birds from the holding pen into the coop.  Tammi spread hay on the floor and transferred the feeder and water bottle.  I came up with a chute, using a couple of boards to channel the birds into the coop. Tammi went into the pen, and I made sure none of the birds flew out of the chute.  Luckily, all but one waddled into their new residence.  One bird had to be different and went the wrong way, getting tangled in some extra wire and boards.  Tammi came over and gently picked her up and finished the job.

I suppose if I drank beer, this would have been a Budweiser moment — having transformed a bunch of old wood and wire into a chicken hotel extraordinaire.

It was about this time Brandon, Tammi’s 9-year-old son, finally awoke and stormed outside yelling  for his mother.  “Mommy!” he shrieked in his high-pitched adolescent whine, “I’m hungry — make me breakfast!”

“You need to teach that kid to cook!” I said, walking with her to the porch.

Brandon was disappointed he had missed the chance to help build the coop. He was looking for any way to make ten bucks so he could buy some more Legos.  I offered him the chance to do so by transferring one of the small wood piles to the barn using the yellow wagon.  We were anticipating the arrival of our wood stove, and wanted to start moving some more wood into a dry location.  Brandon enthusiastically accepted and began the job.

The lad really struggled to pull the wagon up the hill — and then had difficulty controlling it as he went back down with the cart full of wood.  As he was stacking his second load, I was inside resting on the sofa, still enjoying the pleasant thoughts of my morning accomplishments.

“Mommy!  There’s a snake!” yelled my stepson from the woodpile. I jumped up from the sofa, and pulled on my boots. I then grabbed my walking stick and the fireplace shovel and headed out expecting to see my stepson wrapped in the coil of a massive anaconda or dancing left and right in front of a darting king cobra.  Instead, I found a copper and yellow patterned viper laying on a log — the boy just a few feet away.

“Step back,” I said.

“What are you going to do Baron?” said Brandon calling me by my nickname. “Are you going to kill it?”

“Yes,” I said, holding the snake down with the walking stick held in my left hand. The shovel soon followed, coming from the right, like a scene out of the French Revolution — the edge of the tool acting as a guillotine. Our 24 to 36 inch copper head has now in two parts. I tossed them into the pasture using the walking stick.

“Why did you kill it?” asked Brandon, somewhat upset.

“It was a poisonous snake,” said Tammi. He had to.

Read Full Post »

Not enough credit has been given to our good friend Gary (and wife Kim) who have imparted much knowledge about the rural life to us newbie farmers.  In fact, it was Gary who suggested I attend the Carlisle Farm Equipment Auction also known as the Wickard Brothers Annual Consignment Sale held every spring at  1690 Waggoners Gap Road in Carlisle.

“You’ll be sure to get some nesting boxes,” said Gary, suggesting it would be a necessary investment for our 25 lady leghorns.

I showed up early and got a number.  I had been to many auctions in my life, but mostly indoors, and mostly for coins or antiques or estates.  This affair was sprawled out over several acres in a farmer’s field.  There was everything you could imagine from chain saws to tools to wheelbarrows and rakes to horse trailers and combines and tractors….and exactly two sets of galvanized nesting boxes — one a unit of 10 and the other 15 — exactly 25 nesting boxes in all.  Of course, according to Storey’s, I would not need quite this many, but I thought I would err on the side of caution.

While waiting to bid on the 15-unit of nesting boxes, I bid on a push mower and a small wagon containing a chainsaw and several empty plastic gasoline containers.  After winning that lot for $85, an older gentleman with some chew in his jaw inquired about my purchase.

“What’d you pay for that there wagon?” he asked.

“$85,” I proudly replied.  The contents had been acquired for an additional $15.

“Well, well,” he said proudly, “I paid $65 for mine — the blue one — just a while ago.”

“Yes,” I said, pointing to an appendage hanging from my yellow wagon full of junk, “but mine has a cupholder!”

“Indeed it does!” he said, nearly choking on his chew, “You definitely got me there!'”

The previous owner of my little yellow wagon had affixed a cupholder using plastic ties.  Somehow I could imagine him setting his can of Bud in the cupholder while filling his chainsaw with fuel…

Onto the nesting boxes!

The 15-unit sold first.  It was like-new.  A crowd of people were gathered around it.  I decided to take the “shut out” strategy – starting with a high bid no one else would top.  So, there I was, college boy in my Penn State sweatshirt and athletic shoes amid an anxious crowd of farmers in their overalls and flannels and boots with their John Deere and NASCAR hats.

“Got a nice set of nesting boxes heah,” began the auctioneer, “like new!  Do I have 100?  How about 100 to start!”

I immediately jumped in, much to the dismay of everyone present.  No one was willing to top $100 for a unit of nesting boxes that sells for over $250 plus delivery on the Internet.

The 10-unit was not so easy!  Thinking it was just a few items away, I was dismayed to find the auctioneer changing direction and going all the way back to the other end of the row, rather than just snaking through the field.  It would be three hours until he finally came back around.  In the meantime, I enjoyed a sausage sandwich and some pie — and even spent a little time in the truck.

By the time the auctioneer was approaching the nesting boxes, I realized they would be the last item sold that day — and it had started to rain.  I drove onto the field and loaded my items.  Wisely, I pulled up near the last nesting boxes and waited for the auctioneer to approach in the downpour.  As he was about to begin the item, I stepped out of the truck and into the rain. There were only a handful of people around me.  The auctioneer looked surprised to see me in his face again.

“Alright — last item of the day — a nice unit of nesting boxes,” he called out, “Do I have 100 to start? 100 dollars?”

No one bid.  I had decided to let this one drop. It went to 20 and then up to 70.  I jumped in at that point and got it for $85.  Thus, 25 nesting boxes — galvanized — were had for $185.

In the downpour, one of the farmers helped me lift it up onto the back of the truck.

“Now you need some chickens,” he cackled revealing some missing teeth, John Deere cap cocked back at an angle like some inner-city rapper in a Chicago Bulls hat.

“Oh don’t you worry about that,” I said, “We’ve got a coop full of chicks at home just waiting for these things…”

I drove home with a truck full of stuff purchased at bargain prices.  I was feeling pretty good!

Read Full Post »

“The chicks are growing so fast, we can’t keep them in the pool!” Tammi reported on the phone while I was in Greenville, SC on business.  “I had to put up chicken wire in the hearth.”

I immediately had visions of chicken wire stapled to our ancient fireplace — filled with chirping birds and newspapers full of droppings.

“Uh — ok,” I said.

“Oh, don’t worry,” replied Tammi, sensing my anguish.  “They are still in the pool — but I added a cover for them.”

“I guess it’s time to move them,” I said.

Upon my return that week, the wife, Gertie and I drove in the F-150 to Tractor Supply.  I thoroughly enjoyed riding with my wife and my dog in my pickup truck, driving down 174, through Boiling Springs, and then up Bonnybrook Road to the store, just south of Carlisle.  The whole experience felt like a country song in the making —

Drivin’ my F150

Wife at my side

Dawgie in the back

Goin’ for a ride

Down to the Tractor

Suuuuppply!

Oh Lawdy, it’s enough ta make yew cry!

I immediately turned up some metal on 105.7 the X — banishing the rural country demon to the nether reaches of my brain.  Where did that come from?

“OK,” I began, “We’re going to need some heat lamps.”

“Are you sure it will be enough?” worried Tammi, concerned about the night temperatures in the 30’s.

We had planned to move the chickens into the enclosed room in the pig sty.  It had been somewhat insulated and provided a nice 8 x 8 pen for the chicks.  We walked into Tractor Supply — what has to be the greatest little store on the planet for neophyte farmers like ourselves — and immediately found an endcap full of heat lamps!

“Looks like we’re not the only ones needing these things,” I said, comforted that I was not the only one lacking a source of heat for my little birds.

We grabbed two lights and four bulbs – just in case – and headed home.  We spread hay on the floor of the pen and mounted the lights.   We then set the feeder and water bottle in the middle and transferred the rapidly increasing peeps.  They went right to the heat lamps and fell asleep.

“Do you think they’ll make it through the night?” asked Tammi, almost wanting to stay with them.

“Oh yeah – sure – don’t you worry about them. They’ll be fine.”  I reassured her like a doctor talking to a terminal cancer patient.  It was another one of those moments when I acted real confident, even though I hadn’t a clue what was going to happen.  I fell asleep with visions of little white birds frozen in place staring out at me through unmoving black eyes – like the end of The Shining when Jack Torrance (Nicholson) gets lost in the maze during a blizzard – or like that scene in Guyana when Reverend Jim Jones forced all of those people to drink the Kool Aid – little white birds laid out like a quilt of cotton — neatly arranged in rows — just as they fell asleep…

“They’ll be fine…” I whispered to Tammi as she nodded off.

I didn’t sleep much that night.

Read Full Post »

So many questions!  How many chickens should we purchase?  What breed?  Where do you buy them?  What will it cost to feed them?  Should we free range them?

I realized we had a need for a good book or two on chickens.  So, in addition to Raising Chickens for Dummies — a very appropriate title for a suburban couple taking their first crack at chicken farming, we picked up Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens.  There was a wealth of information — quite intimidating for newbies!  My God — you have to worry about stuff like “cannibalism” and predators and heat lamps — and you have to make sure you don’t overcrowd the coop!  And then there’s the poop….

Regarding the number of chickens and the breed, we decided this was more about the number of eggs we expected per week, once the hens were mature enough to begin laying. A perusal of Henderson’s Handy-Dandy Chicken Chart helped to summarize the goals and aspirations of this neophyte “Hinkler” (Pennsylvania Dutch for Chicken Farmer).  We wanted maximum egg production as soon as possible!  We also learned about the myth of brown eggs being better than white — not true!  So Leghorns it was — “the ultimate egg machines”  according to Henderson.  I was also intrigued by the note regarding the use of this breed by the Romans in rituals to divine the future.  I supposed if the egg production didn’t work out, we could open up a fortune-telling booth…  “Beware the Ides of March!”

Why Leghorns?  One of my good friends warned me they are a “weak breed” prone to sudden death in the slightest of challenges.  I ignored him and did the math —- 6 eggs per week x 25 chickens = 150 eggs per week = 12 1/2 dozen.  If we eat 2 1/2 dozen ourselves, that leaves 10 to sell — or about $25/week — $100/month in egg money. Over the course of a year, these little leghorn ladies could gross about $1200 — my MBA-training was coming through!  Of course, I had no idea about the operational costs — fixed and variable — of such an operation. But, we were jumping in!

Convinced to buy leghorns, we set about to find a hatchery.  Believe it or not, the little peeps, but a day old, are shipped to their buyers through the US Mail!  Concerned about minimizing the distance and finding a hatchery we could trust, we selected the Hoffman Hatchery in Gratz, PA.  — about 50 miles north of us.  The primary reason was they had a great website — very informative – and they are from Gratz – very close to the Mahantongo Valley – the ancestral home of the Knorrs.  I figured these Hoffman’s were likely distant kin, and could be trusted.  We printed out the order form and sent it in with our check for about $75 (including shipping) for 25 day-old pullets (all hens) — fixed cost — $3/bird delivered.

Side note — we had to give our Camp Hill address since we had not moved yet!  More on this later…

Read Full Post »

Today, we learned our mortgage for the farm at 1602 West Lisburn Rd., Mechanicsburg, PA was approved. Settlement is scheduled for March 30 — one month away!

Now, those of you who know us are well aware we don’t know a thing about farming! Fortunately, we don’t intend to do this for a living — but rather as a hobby and for a little personal security during troubled times. We also view this as a tremendous learning experience and intend to share our mistakes, discoveries and eureka! moments as we go.

First, a run down of the property and some thoughts about our plans:

The 4+ acre parcel contains an old brick farmhouse that started out as a log cabin in 1790. It was since enlarged several times. The place has “good bones” — log, brick, plaster, wide plank floors, a huge hearth — lots of crooked floors, crooked walls and cracked and crooked ceilings!  According to some research at the Cumberland County Historical Society, the property was owned by Daniel Baker, a member of the Church of the Brethren, who came to the area from Lancaster County in the early 1800’s. His son, Christian, lived at the farm (or at least owned it) for most of his life, into the late 1800’s. Most of the improvements to the house are likely due to his efforts. For this reason, we have decided to refer to the property as the Christian Baker Farm. It was so noted on the 1858 map of Cumberland County — the very map used by Confederate soldiers foraging in the Carlisle – Mechanicsburg area prior to the Battle of Gettysburg. Of course, at that time, the farm included quite a bit more land – most of which is still farmland, but owned by someone else.

About a mile west, along West Lisburn Road, Baker’s Cemetery can be found. Daniel and Christian and their families are all buried there.  This further confirmed our decision to name the farm after them, given their involvement in its improvement and their eternal proximity to it.  Any old Dutchman knows you want to be on the good side of the spirits!

More about the place — three acres are fenced in pasture, containing an ancient bank barn, still intact. Two Nubian goats – a mother and daughter – Twinx and Nellie – already occupy the pasture and barn and will remain when we take ownership. We plan to have several sheep on the land to keep the grass down. Apparently, the barn is also home to a couple of barn cats – desirable for their penchant for keeping the rodent population down.

Between the house and the barn is an old wooden pig sty – circa 1900. We believe this building will function well as a chicken coop. Yes — we plan to raise some chickens – not to eat, but for their eggs.  It is an important part of the bargain — Tammi gets her farm and I get fresh scrambled eggs every morning.  We can also sell some to the neighbors!

Of course, you cannot have a farm without a dog!  We have discussed breeds and are looking for a good herding dog — a collie or one of the sheep dogs.  Apparently German Shepherds can’t be trusted around the chickens — at least that’s what we found on the Internet!

Read Full Post »