Wednesday, 23 May 2012 17:00

Chickenship - (humor)

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableLiving off grid – well we just had to have chickens right?

When I was a kid we had a couple of bantam chickens. They were named Popeye and Oliveoil, or maybe it was Oliveoyle. Anyway we only kept them for their eggs. I’m not sure why we wanted such small eggs. We could have just raided a robin’s nest or two and not had to buy any feed. I still remember those two chickens. When the rooster was after the hen (which was often) she would run into the doghouse and hide behind the dog to get away from him. It must have been one of those forced marriages. Of course, as a child I just thought they were playing hide and seek.

I’d like to say I remember that we enjoyed the eggs but sometimes my mother thought the eggs should be soft boiled and I did not enjoy those at all. Who came up with that idea anyway? Why not just eat them raw? Did she think I wanted to grow up and be Rocky Balboa? What was the point in wasting the energy to almost cook them? Just saying……

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableSo when Laurie and I moved out of the city we just had to have chickens. We fixed up an old storage shed and made a chicken condo out of it. We had all the chickens sign papers that they would live in harmony, lay lots and lots of eggs and the rooster would never crow before 9:00 a.m. and only on weekdays. Well, the chickens do seem to live in harmony.

We have one Rooster and eight Hens. I think they are happy, well I KNOW the rooster is happy.

The condo is insulated, has a lot of roosts which they don’t use much.  We put four nest boxes in it. Guess how many they use? Usually just one. I guess they don’t like cold boxes. When it is time to lay an egg, the hens should just go to a nest box and lay one. Not ours, they get in line to use THE box. No one wants to be first because the box is cold. They are not patient either. Once they are in line, they want the laying hen to hurry. They stand there and scold each other if they are not fast enough. Then when they are done and get out of the box they brag about what they just accomplished. They are not at all sportsman like about it. There is a lot of trash talk. It can be very noisy in the henhouse.

All of our chickens are “free range”, I guess because they didn’t have to pay for it. They get store bought feed twice a day and the rest of the day they spend on their free range foraging for bugs and things. You can’t believe what chickens eat. I can’t believe we eat chickens and eggs, not after what I’ve seen. These chickens (I am not making this up) will sometimes stand under a horse tail and wait………I’m from the city remember? I am not farm hardened. That is disgusting.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableIt’s still cold and wet here even though it is May. I guess there are not as many bugs and things for them to eat. After dinner last night I went outside and almost got ran over by the whole herd of chickens. Flocks fly, herds rumble. This was definitely a herd.Have you ever stood in one spot and witnessed eight chickens running straight at you full bore? It is a sight to behold. Full speed they came. Waddling side to side, some flapping their wings for more speed. I thought I was a goner. I guess they were just extra hungry. Maybe the horses weren’t around. I went back into the house and got some scraps (pay dirt for a chicken). I can’t tell you how happy they were. I was happy they didn’t trample me to death.

These guys are smart too. We haven‘t lost one chicken to a predator. Well okay, we do have an Anatolian shepherd livestock guardian dog but that’s not the only reason. We had a coyote come to within about 50 yards of the flock one day. The hens all bunched up and froze and the rooster went out about 15yards toward the coyote. He actually put himself between the coyote and his hens! I guess eight hens to yourself is worth dying for. I was impressed! I thought he was all about the love. This rooster actually finds food and gives it to his hens or calls them over to eat what he found. He’s a real smoothie. I think he’s from Europe. Excellent technique.

But here he was actually putting his life on the line defending his loved ones. The standoff finally came to an end when I went outside and scared the coyote away. Of course the hens all gathered around the rooster, like he was the hero. Go figure. I have to admit, he is dashing in his feathered costume, but there is a little substance there as well.

It wouldn’t be the same here without our chickens. Fresh healthy eggs are wonderful but the entertainment value is priceless.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.

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  • Free Range Winter Chickens (Humor)

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableI don’t really know if our chickens are like all chickens or if they are evolving into something so fantastic that we will be featured in agricultural textbooks for all time. Our chickens are becoming winterized.

    We got these chickens fully grown a couple of years ago. Not being experienced we weren’t really sure what to expect. Our chickens are free range chickens. That means no one owns the property they graze on and whatever they find they get to keep for free. Horse pooh, dog pooh, crickets, and many other disgusting things.

    Our chickens also have feathers so I figured we were good as far as winter goes. One of our friends told us they would be able to survive clear down to zero degrees. I was a little concerned because when I was a kid we had a Bantam Rooster called Popeye and one morning we woke up and ‘Ol Popeye was frozen solid in time never to thaw out again in our presence. We were told he was old and that’s why he froze. My sister and I never bought that one. Our parents were old and they never froze.

    We live in the mountains at 4200’ and it does get pretty cold here but we also live off grid. That means no forced air furnace and hot water heater for the chicken coop. These guys were just going to have to tough it out. That’s the way I was raised and it worked for me and my sister, well it worked for me. Our parents would always say things like “just tough it out” and “quit whining” and we seemed to get through the winters okay with good parenting skills like that.

    I did put insulation in the chicken coop and cover all the holes. We even had a freeze proof faucet nearby so we could get fresh water every day. Laurie made me get some sawdust for the coop floor. I guess I had to “cave” on something.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableFall came and I thought we were as ready as we were going to be for winter and right then all of the stupid chickens lost their stupid feathers when the stupid temperature got down to freezing at night. Well, how smart was that? All my life I had been told how “Mother Nature always gets it right”. Well apparently Mother Nature never had to live off grid. I just knew we were going to have to buy new chickens in the spring – ever y year.

    Well it got down to minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit that winter for a couple of days. Our chickens really sucked it up. We were proud of them. The rooster had frostbite on his comb but he never really complained. I guess it’s easier to take care of now, kind of like being bald, and the hens seem to be attracted to him okay. Other than that they didn’t seem to be affected much.

    The one thing I noticed that first year is that they never came out of the coop. I guess they didn’t have to. Laurie took them hot meals and warm water every day. Cooked rice, cooked oatmeal, and other things like that. I guess they would have to wait for summer for the disgusting things they like to eat.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWe have a new generation of chickens who have grown up here and seem to be a little more used to the winters than the original gang. They still stupidly lose their feathers in the late fall but on a nice day they will venture out of the coop. I go out and shovel trails in the snow that lead to other areas I shovel and they do go out and scratch.

    It’s hard getting used to snow. One hen shakes each foot after lifting her foot to take a step. She’s got it down though and does manage to go forward. It’s like a cadence – lift, shake, and step. Lift, shake, and step. We’ve also found that they can get bogged down in powder snow.  We’ve had to rescue more than one stranded in a snow drift. They act like a beached whale. Scientists are puzzled by the strange behavior.

    Our original batch of chickens never left the coop. Our newer “evolved” chickens do. It wouldn’t surprise me to see their feet eventually develop webs like tiny snow shoes and their feathers turn white in the winter. I wonder if the government will give us a grant?

    Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.

     
  • Free Range Chickens?

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableSo you want to have fresh eggs and the more adventurous of you might even think you want fresh meat! Of course, to be totally in vogue these are going to have to be free range chickens or it’s just not cool.

    Like most things there is another side to the story. This blog is about some of the less attractive side of free range chickens.

    We currently have 15 free range chickens, all different varieties. Buff Orpingtons, Dominique’s, and Rhode Island Reds and some kind of cross in between those three breeds. We don’t just let them out in a tiny pen for an hour a day to qualify them as “free range” like so many commercial growers do. We let our chickens out of the coop at first light and they go back in at dusk. All day long they have the full run of our 40 acre property.

    While most people might think that is the ultimate in chicken raising it isn’t all that clean of an issue. There are some problems that you should consider before you turn the little ones loose to do as they please.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableThis summer Laurie worked very hard to put a little flower bed next to our main entry door. She dug up local plants to display and even shopped around the woods for some decorative wood to put in the bed. She then wrapped the whole thing in chicken wire to keep the dog, chickens, and cats out to give the new plants a chance to get rooted and grow.

    The fence was unsightly and we finally took it down last week. Within three days the chickens had destroyed the planter, turning it into a chicken spa to relax out of the sun and bath in its fine soil. I’ve shooed them and even sprayed them with water but they keep coming back.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableOne of my jobs outside is to keep all of our concrete slabs clean which I think helps keep the inside of the house clean. It was all easy enough to do until we got free range chickens. Now I have to scrape the concrete before I sweep it and even that doesn’t erase all of the little round markings. That also goes for anything outside they might sit or roost on during the day.

    If that isn’t enough to make you question the whole free range concept let me add one more.  Free ranging chickens are going to look really good to a variety of predators. This past year we have had to deal with coyotes, weasels, and too many hawks to list.

    Thanks to our Anatolian Shepherd livestock guardian dog and me we still have all 15 chickens but only just barely. The dog has chased coyotes, the weasel, and at least one hawk off the property. The hawk was 3’ above one of the chickens when the dog just exploded into action and chased it away. I took care of the rest. At times it seemed like a full time job, like when the family of hawks came to visit – mom, dad, and baby hawk. They were trying to teach the little one how to hunt and using our chickens to do it with.

    They do keep the bugs down. We literally don’t have grasshoppers in our immediate area anymore and I have to admit our chickens seem to be very happy. They also can be very entertaining. All that being said they are fodder for any and all predators and very messy to boot.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWe managed to keep our chickens safe this year but how are you going to feel if you let one predator slip in and steal one of your little bug pecking munchkins? Is it really in their best interest to free range if it also exposes them to being killed by any number of different predators? I’ll leave that up to you to decide. I just want you to be able to make an informed decision.

    We’re still free ranging here but I am considering a large pen with a wire lid on it for the future. The jury is still out. One thing that is encouraging is that with each generation of new ones they seem to be getting wilder and more wary than the original chickens we started with. Something else to consider.

    Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.