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July 31, 2012

A Chicken Safe Place: DIY Instructions

A removable enclosure is created to keep the injured chicken with the flock.

I received a call this past Saturday from a fellow chicken keeper that lives a few miles away from me.  While she was out running errands somehow one of her chicken, Midnight, had injured her comb.  Unbeknownst to her, the rest of the flock quickly spotted the injury and attacked Midnight.   Within no time, they had created a large deep bleeding crater at the base of her comb.  Thankfully, her husband heard the ruckus and went outside to investigate.  He immediately separated Midnight into a cardboard box for safety.  Unsure what to do, she called me.

I went over and helped.  The wound was severe.  It was large, open, bloody and unable to be sutured.  You could see the bone.  The soft tissues were swollen.  She would need to be separated from the flock for months to allow this wound to heal properly.  We were going to need to create a chicken hospital.  Without a safe haven, the other chickens would continue to peck at Midnight's injury.  With various scraps of wood, we quickly constructed a chicken hospital that could remain in the coop.  It was advantageous to create something that could stay in the coop for a few reasons including:

1.  Familiar surroundings allow Midnight to be comfortable and remain in her home.
2. She is still with her family and should be able to reintegrate into the flock without a problem once her wounds heal.
3.  She is safe in the coop away from predators.
4.  She still has company as chickens have a flock mentality.

With a tape measure in hand, I quickly designed something that would be incredibly versatile in the future.  Not only could this be used as a hospital for Midnight, but it could also be utilized as a way to slowly introduce new members to the flock, a place for broody hens to hatch some eggs and also a brooder.  The best part is that it is completely removable from the coop when it is not in use.

~The Plan~
It had to meet a few requirements:
-Fit inside the coop without taking up too much room.
-Allow for visibility to check on the hen's condition without any manipulation of the enclosure.
-The back should remain open.  When pushed up against the wall, it would be closed and just by sliding it forward from the wall it would be open.
-Once the rest of the flock goes out into the run first thing in the morning, the large coop can be closed and the "hospital" opened to allow the isolated chicken freedom in the coop for a bit of time.

Note: We split 3" wide scraps of plywood to reach the 1.5" width mentioned below. Also be sure to measure your coop door to ensure that this will fit through once constructed.
Three~3'x1.5" boards
Four~22"x1.5" boards
Four~12"x1.5" boards
1 piece of OSB cut to 15"x3'2" to serve as a removable roof.
Hardware cloth
Staple gun
Hammer and Nails

Project time: 30 minutes

Create the sides by nailing together two of the 22" boards and the 12 inch boards.  Then staple hardware cloth to each side.

Next nail the 3 foot boards between the sides as shown.

Finally, staple hardware cloth as shown to the front and top leaving the bottom and the back open.  The unattached OSB board can be used as a roof to prevent chicken droppings from entering the enclosure.

My friend's coop just so happened to have a door that was originally planned to access the nesting boxes.  Her hens never cared for these nesting boxes so, we slid the hospital right over this door.  This door allows my friend access to her hen without having to go into the coop or even slide the enclosure away from the wall.  A temporary waterer was attached to the side of the enclosure while a miniature shelf was created to hold the food dish near this door.

Easy to replace food and water and apply medicine without disturbing the entire flock through this outside access door.

Midnight's wounds are being treated with Vetericyn and vitamins and electrolytes were added to her water to help her during this stressful time. Her protein requirements are also being supplemented with Manna Pro's Poultry Conditioner and sunflower seeds.

Yesterday, I took a quick visit over to see how Midnight was doing and I am happy to report that much of the swelling is down.  The bleeding has stopped and the wound is beginning to heal.  There are no signs of infection.  Her comb is bright red and she is eating, drinking and pooping normally.  She is talking and perky.  All of these are good signs.  I don't suspect that she will lay any eggs for a while, as her body is using its protein stores to heal.  However, when she does return to laying eggs, it will be a very good sign.  With a wound this large, Midnight will most likely be separated from the others for months.  We will have to wait until the skin is fully healed and any feathers have grown back as we don't want to risk anyone harming her again out of chicken curiosity.

UPDATE: After 4 weeks of treatment, Midnight made a full recovery and rejoined her flock.

This post is linked up to Homestead Revival's Homestead Barn Hop.

Photo Credit/Sketches:  Tilly's Nest

July 29, 2012

Recipe for Happy Chickens

3 part Fresh Air
2 parts Food
1 1/2 parts Clean Water
2 parts Shelter
4 parts Companionship
2 parts Safety and Protection from Predators
1 part A Home to Rear their Young
1 part Sources of Entertainment
 a sprinkle of Love
a dash of Peace

Recipe for Happy Chickens
Recipe for Happy Humans

Important: Recipe amounts can be adjusted to your own preference.

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

July 27, 2012

Privacy Please

Is there such a thing as egg laying etiquette?  I've often wonder about this. I have heard stories of hens lining up just to lay their eggs in a favorite box, each patiently waiting until the hen in front of them has had her turn.  Often in our nesting boxes, I will discover two chickens laying their eggs at the same time in the same box.  It is so cute to see them stuffed into the box, chatting together and singing the "egg song" duet.  It must be a bonding experience and one that they enjoy as I discover them this way quite a bit.  However, yesterday things were a bit different.

I was enjoying spending sometime outside with the girls in the morning.  As most everyone was scratching around in the fresh moist dirt I saw that Fifi had to lay an egg.  She popped up the ramp and into the coop to have her pick of all the nesting boxes.  No sooner had she entered the coop, I saw Sunshine make a bee line inside and shoo her out.  This happened repeatedly with lots of squawking and feathers flying.  Fifi came out almost as soon as she went in.  Poor little Fifi, all she wanted to do was lay her sweet tiny little egg in one of the boxes. She would even take the middle one if forced to.  Why didn't Sunshine understand?  Why was Sunshine so bossy all of a sudden?  Then it dawned on me.

Sunshine was bossy.  Clearly this otherwise docile chicken had begun to transform.  With Tilly being on and off broody, Sunshine has bestowed upon herself the position of head hen!  At first it began with some naughty behavior, like eating eggs (thank goodness she stopped), completely emptying the feeders and bullying the others away from treats.  What had gotten into her?  Power.  She had control and she liked it.  She could do good and naughty and no one was there to stop her.  Her rule is so different from sweet Tilly's.

I intervened that morning.  I tossed some black sunflower seeds into the run to provide distraction.  Sunshine quickly commanded the scene, gobbling up as many as she could.  Fifi took note and ran into the coop and hid in the nesting box on the far left, the favorite one.  I had bought Fifi about 5 minutes.  Soon enough, Sunshine noticed that Fifi was missing.  She marched on into the coop.  She saw Fifi in the nesting box on the left and determined she decided to occupy the box on the far right.  

I returned to the coop about a half hour later to discover Tilly back inside sitting in the middle box with Sunshine's and Fifi's eggs underneath of her.  She had been busy.  With her beak, she carefully rolled each egg out of their respective boxes and into her favorite box, the middle one.  With feathers puffed and some cautionary growls from Tilly, I reached underneath of her and retrieved the two warm gifts.  

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

July 26, 2012

Rustic Grilled Bruschetta

Sometimes it is just too hot to cook.  No one feels like eating anything too heavy and we certainly do not feel like cooking in the house.  This is when we take our cooking to the grill.  It is very easy to make a wonderful light meal for warm summer nights that is both easy delicious and keeps the kitchen clean!  Who doesn't love that part!?  One thing that we find incredibly delicious and simple is a rustic crusty bread with fresh from the garden tomatoes and basil, and a drizzle of olive oil.  Some days, this serves as our main course paired with an assortment of summer salads.  Other days it's a side.  Either way, it is fast, delicious and easy!

Ready for the grill
Makes 4 toasts

4 slices of fresh rustic bread~ I used a Fresh Batard loaf
1 medium sized tomato-8 slices
4 leaves of Fresh basil into chiffonade
Cheese of your preference-I used goat but fresh mozzarella works nicely too
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Heat grill to medium heat.

On a slice of the bread arrange two tomato slices.  On top of the tomatoes, place 1/4 of the fresh basil and some cheese on top.  Salt and Pepper to taste and drizzle with olive oil.

Place on the upper rack of the grill keeping the cover closed for approximately 5 minutes,  Be sure to keep checking on the bread often to be sure it does not burn. Remove when the bread is toasted and the cheese is slightly browned.

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

July 24, 2012

From One Chicken Keeper to Another

Just checking on you Tilly.  Still broody...yep.  Thought so.

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 chose organic feed?
Which brand?
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.

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

July 23, 2012

Winner: Hen Saddle and Keychain

I wanted to give a huge shout out to everyone who entered this awesome giveaway from our sponsor, Louise's Country Closet.  I enjoyed reading all of your lovely comments and hearing about your favorite saddles.  By far, I think the favorite fabric is the sunflowers with the purple background.  Thank you so much everyone for entering.  And now, a winner was randomly selected...



You are the lucky winner!

Please email us at with your US shipping address and contact information so we can forward it to Louise's Country Closet.  Please respond by 7/25/12 Noon EST or risk forfeiting your winnings.

Photo Credit: Louise's Country Closet

July 22, 2012

Mini-Muffin Tin Cheddar BBQ Meatloaves

Today we went exploring.   So when we returned home in time for dinner, I decided to make something quick and easy with the ground beef that I had pulled out of the freezer early this morning.  One of my family's favorite things is when I make mini meatloaves in a muffin pan.  They love it for the novelty and I love it because it cooks in half the time.  This one is especially easy with a yummy gooey cheesy surprise in the middle.

Makes 8 mini-loaves


1 pound ground beef (90/10)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 cup of French Fried Onions
1/2 cup of diced yellow onion
1 large egg
2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce
salt and pepper to taste
Cheddar cheese-cut into 8 1 inch cubes


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Set aside 1/3 cup of  French Fried Onions.

In a large mixing bowl combine the meat, egg, Worcestershire sauce, BBQ sauce, french fried onions, yellow onions and salt and pepper to taste.

Scoop out enough of the meat mixture to just fill one spot in the muffin tin.  Make sure the top is flush with the pan.  With your finger, poke a hole into the center of the meat and place a piece of cheddar cheese into the hole.  With a tablespoon or so of meat mixture flatten it and place it over the cheese.  Continue the following steps until all eight spots in the muffin tin are filled.

Top each of the meatloaves with a few french fried onions.

Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes or until the thermometer reads 165 degrees F.  To remove from the pan, slide a fork down the side and under the meatloaf then slowly lift.

For more recipes from Tilly's Nest, click here.

Photo Credits:  Tilly's Nest

July 20, 2012

How to Trim A Chicken's Toenails

All toenails, beaks and feathers are made from a protein called keratin. When chickens are allowed to be out and about to scratch in the dirt and explore, they do a good job at keeping their nails and beaks nice and trim. However from time to time it is not unlikely that your chickens' toenails and beak will require a little maintenance. For example, our Silkies frequently need their fifth toenail trimmed as it never touches the ground. Keeping the nails from overgrowing is very important for overall general foot health, the ability to walk and the ability to hold the foot in a normal position. Trimming your roosters' spurs and toenails can also help to keep them from digging their nails into the backs of your hens. Cutting the toenails is relatively easy to do and takes only a matter of a few minutes per chicken.

When cutting toenails, the most important thing to be aware of is the quick. Like dogs, chickens have a quick running through each toenail. They even a quick in their beak. The quick offers blood supply to the nail. If you look at your own fingernails, your "quick" is the pink part that you do not want to cut into. When you cut your nails too short, it hurts. When you cut an animal's nail too short (into the quick), not only does it hurt but it will also bleed quite a bit. Toenails should be trimmed in front of the quick. If the toenails are excessively long, trim a bit off and wait a couple of weeks for the quick to recede. Then you can gently trim a little more off until the nail length returns to normal. Be patient. This entire process can take up to a month.

In darker nails, the quick can be difficult to see just where it ends.  Here are some tips to help you visualize the quick:
~Look for the quick underneath the nail instead of on the top or the sides.
~Try using a flashlight and placing it up against the nail.
~Try shaving off smaller pieces of the nail gradually progressing up the nail.  Take a peek looking straight on at the end of the nail.  It should look like a semi-circle.  The top of the semi-circle should appear darker and the bottom should appear lighter.  Gradually clip the nail until the darker color from the top fills up over half the nail and the lighter color less than half.  Stop when you see this change.  You are close to the quick.

Supply List
Toenail Clipper (I use a large human one designated for the chickens)
Emery board/Nail File
Paper towel
Bath Towel
A second set of hands~until you get the hang of it

Step By Step Instructions

1. Grab a hold of a chicken.  Sometimes wrapping them in a bath towel helps to keep them calm. Examine each foot.  Look at each nail and determine which ones if any need to be trimmed.  Also inspect for any cuts, broken toes, bumble foot, and also scaly leg mites that might require attention.

2.  With your hand grasp and support the entire foot.  Select the nail to be trimmed.  Identify the location of the quick.  Trim the nail to almost the quick, leaving a space to prevent bleeding.  File the rough edges of the nail with an emery board.  Smoothing the edges prevents your chicken from cutting themselves when they scratch their eyes and bodies.

3.  If you happen to accidentally trim the quick, continue to hold the chicken.  Dip the toenail into the cornstarch coating the tip.  You may need to repeat this a few times.  The bleeding should stop within 5 minutes.  Gently wipe off any excess blood that may have dripped onto their feet or feathers to avoid the other chickens from pecking. Do not return the chicken to the coop or run until you can be sure that the bleeding has definitely stopped.

4.  Continue on to each other toenail repeating the process with each of your other chickens.

Take your time and be patient.  It may take you a few days to get through your entire flock.  Be sure to check on your flocks' toenails every now and then.  I like to remember to look when I notice the seasons changing.  Longer toenails typically become an issue when the chickens are a couple of years old.

Photo Credits/Sketch:  Tilly's Nest

July 18, 2012

Hummingbird Moth

Yesterday, I peered out into the gardens through the kitchen window.  I watched as an assortment of butterflies flit from flower to flower and bush to bush dancing on the light breeze.  I saw a female hummingbird sip nectar from the flowers on the deck.  A daily visitor, she has also been enjoying the red bee balm that is blooming outside the dining room window.  As I looked across the garden, I caught a glimpse of what appeared to be two baby hummingbirds buzzing around the magnificent butterfly bush.  I had to go outside and get a closer peek.

Soon enough, I caught a glimpse through the zoom lense of my camera. Unafraid of me, eventually I was able to stand about two feet from the magnificent creature, only to realize that it wasn't a hummingbird at all.  It had two thick black antennae coming from its head.  I snapped a bunch of photos hoping to get a good one to help us identify this mystery visitor.  This was some sort of insect.  With a quick phone call to Mr. Tilly's Nest, he immediately told me that it must be a Humming Bird Moth.  He was right.  It sure was and this was the first time I had seen one in my life!  Here is the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth that visited Tilly's Nest today.

The curled proboscis ready to sip on nectar

Wings flutter so quickly they are almost invisible.

Love this one with the wasp zooming by at the top!

Heading over to another blossom

I also found this fabulous YouTube Video of one in action.  I hope you enjoy it and I hope you too will be on the lookout in your own gardens for these amazing moths!

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

July 17, 2012

Giveaway Duo: Hen Saddle and Keychain

As many of you might remember, during one of Dolly's numerous times being broody this past Spring, she was bullied by the other hens higher up in the pecking order.  Bullied to get out of the nesting box, bullied to share the eggs she sat upon and just plain jealously from the others ended Dolly with a bloody bare back picked clean of feathers.  It happened within a matter of a couple of hours.

Early that morning she was fine and when I returned with late morning treats I discovered her in one of the nesting boxes badly injured.  It was at this point that I realized I need to keep her protected during her broody periods, especially because she seems to always be broody.  I started searching as to what I could do-enter Louise's Country Closet.  They immediately sent one out to me in Dolly's size and I immediately put it on her.  Her back was covered, safe from harm.  Over the next few weeks, the scab healed and new little quills, pin feathers, began to emerge.  She wore the hen saddle for months.  Finally, the feathers returned to normal and I was able to remove the saddle.  She has been saddle free for 2 months now.

Advantages to using Hen Saddles
1.  Cost effective.  You don't need to have a hospital for your chicken to recover.
2.  Speeds up recovery.  Out of sight, out of mind. The chickens stop picking.
3.  Keeps your girls comfortable with overzealous roosters.
4.  Ensures that your hen keeps her place in the pecking order.
5.  Helps decrease your anxiety about your poor hen's injuries.
6.  Keeps them warm during the Winter months when their backs are bare.

Tips for using Hen Saddles
Having used the saddles now for almost six months I thought I'd share some words of advice from our personal experiences.
1. Check daily for proper placement.  Be sure that the affected area is still covered and the straps are lying flat and untwisted.
2. Be sure to check weekly for mites and lice hiding under the saddle.  With a saddle on, these insects are protected during dust bathing.  A gentle weekly dusting under the saddle with food grade DE should keep those little buggers in check.
3.  Launder the hen saddle once a week.
4.  Measure your hens before you order to ensure a proper fit.
5.  Order an extra one for your henny girl to wear when the other is in the laundry.
6.  Order one in each size of your hens for your first aid kits.
7.  Do not be tempted to remove your saddle too early.  New beautiful feathers still wrapped in their quills are very tempting for other chickens to peck at.  Better to leave the saddle on until the new feathers completely match the existing ones.
8. In days with extreme heat, consider removing the hen saddle during the hottest times of the day if you notice your hens panting and/or showing signs of overheating.  You might need to separate your hen from the bunch when you do this.

The Giveaway

One Hen Saddle & One Custom Keychain

Hen saddles come in a variety of sizes and patterns.  You will have your choice of one in any combination that you choose.  Want help choosing and getting a perfect fit?  Click here.  So hard to choose, there are over four pages of keychains.  My favorite is the crazy chicken lady! Customizable, durable and lightweight, I've had mine for months now and it still looks brand new.

Here's How to Enter:

Visit Louise's Country Closet and pick a favorite item.  Come back here and leave a comment with your name, email address and tell me about that item!  One more thing, an added bonus!  If you can't wait until the giveaway winner is drawn, take advantage of 15% off your order. Just enter Tilly at the check-out.

This giveaway ends on July 22, 2012 at midnight EST.  One entry per person. 
Items ship to one US address only.

Photo Credits: Tilly's Nest, Louise's Country Closet

July 15, 2012

A Sunday Drive

Tilly is still on and off again broody.  Just when I think the broodiness has ended, I find her back in the nesting boxes. Yesterday I was glad she was broody.  As we were out and about exploring for the day,  I knew that she would keep all the eggs safe underneath of her.  Sunshine has been known to explore with eggs.  She loves to roll them out of the nesting boxes and into the run.  When they break, she enjoys eating them.  This is not a good thing.  Even their tough thick eggshells are no match for a chicken playing kick ball with eggs!

On the other hand, the Silkies love that Tilly is broody.  They have been helping themselves to all the treats.  The hens share the treats that I toss into the run during the day.  Yesterday I shared some arugula, tomatoes and cucumbers before we left.  Tilly did not budge from her nesting box.  She was uninterested.  It's funny,  nowadays Tilly only comes running out into the run when she hears the crinkling of the Manna Pro Harvest Treats bag.  Filled with peanuts, tomatoes, raisins and more, it must taste really good to draw a broody girl off her nest!

Sometimes, we love to get into the car and explore without any agendas or time restraints.  It is often the best way we discover new favorite places.  We have found delicious ice cream stands, farm stands selling delicious jams and produce, hidden beaches and hiking trails. Days like this make me welcome getting lost. If we hadn't taken a turn down that tiny inviting road, I would have never discovered this rooster weather vane perched up upon the cupola overlooking the gardens and Atlantic Ocean.

Photo Credits:  Tilly's Nest

July 12, 2012

Observing the Bees Outside the Hives

My bees are mutts.  They are a blend of Carniolan, Italian, German, Russian and Australian.  The apiary where I purchased my bees believes that by diversifying their genetics, they are hardier and more resistant to disease.  Recently when my mentor opened up my hives with me, he was amazed at how the bees' genetics expressed themselves.  As we pulled the frames, there were so many different looking bees working together.  Initially, before he knew that I had mutts, he exclaimed, "Hey, you have a Carniolan in here!"

Well all this week, the bees have just loved taking the pollen from the flowering catnip close to their hives.  Here you can see four very different looking bees.  To begin with, take a peek at the shade of yellow on their abdomens and the width variance on the black striping.  Amazingly, they are all from the same mother, living harmoniously together in their hive.

Yesterday during the late afternoon, I watered the vegetable garden.  As I watered, I realized that I was in the flight path of the bees.  They were on a mission to return to the hives.  They were heavy with pollen, water and nectar from foraging.  Buzzing by my head, they could care less.  I think it was me that didn't want to impede their path home.  So, I squatted down and continued watering.  Then I saw it.  Across the wood chips that surround the hive came a worker bee (female) dragging a dead drone (male).  I first noticed them between my two hives.  She was dragging him away from the hive.  I watched as she struggled to tow his body over the wood chips.  He got caught on small shards of wood.  She tugged and pulled from all angles.  Finally after about 5 minutes, she had dragged him about two feet behind her hive and flew away.  I know that bees clean the hives and remove dead bees.  Was this what she was doing?  When I woke up today, I had to see if he was still there.  He was.

Then I noticed another bee.  This time a dead worker laying within a few inches of him.  I scooped them both up and placed them on a larger wood chip.  Here you can really see the difference between the two.  

I never thought that I would find honey bees so rewarding.  Their behavior is fascinating.  I just wish I understood what they were doing.  Summer bees work very hard and live on average only six short weeks. Could this be a bee graveyard?  Could this be where the honey bees carry their dead?  I know that nocturnal animals, like skunks, love to eat bees.  They stick their "hands" into the narrow entrance and pull bees right out of the hive for a midnight meal.  I just wonder if the bees remove the dead ones far from the entrance to prevent any unwanted visitors.

Photo Credits:  Tilly's Nest

July 10, 2012

Coggeshall Farm

This past weekend we took a day trip to a town on the outskirts of Newport, Rhode Island named Bristol.  We happened to discover a real gem, Coggeshall Farm.  The best part about this working museum is that it is based upon a 1799 homestead and you can touch everything!  In fact, it is encouraged that you look in every building, closed or not, touch the farm animals, explore the fields and the gardens.  The farm raises heritage breeds of chickens, ducks, sheep, oxen, donkeys, turkeys and horses.  You can explore the farmhouse with a real working kitchen complete with hearth cooking.  Of course, I thoroughly enjoyed chicken watching.

Raising rarer heritage breeds of chickens like Dominiques and Speckled Sussex enables them to not only be more historically accurate but in their opinion have better options when it comes to free-ranging.  Despite being open to predators galore, rarely are their birds ever taken.  In fact, many of these birds prefer to be outside all year long meandering through the gardens and the fields.

a 1799 chicken run

Photo Credits:  Tilly's Nest

July 8, 2012

Sunday Herbfest

Each year I make it a point to plant Nasturtiums, a lovely entirely edible herb, near the chicken coop.  This year, I have had to plant them three times as other little critters beside the chickens have found them to be absolutely delicious.  The chickens love them.  I happen to think that they smell and taste like capers.  It never takes long for the girls to notice when I push the stalks up against the wire of the run. Oyster Cracker, my little piggy, always comes over first to take a nibble.

Soon enough, she is joined by her best friend Sunshine and usually Feathers our Black Silkie.  These three love to pull the stems and flowers through the wire.   With each stem broken, the delicious peppery smell of nasturtium fills the air.  I can feel my mouth watering!  Luckily, nasturtiums grow back quickly. 

Some other herbs that your chickens might enjoy include:

Bay leaves

You will find that the chickens' taste will vary from flock to flock.  Sometimes, one flock devours a certain herb while another flock could care less.  Like people, they have their own sense of likes and dislikes.  Herbs are also wonderful dried and sprinkled in the coop during the cooler Fall and Winter months.  This helps to keep them busy scratching and searching for tasty bits of dried herbs and provides them a bit of aromatherapy when they tend to spend more time in the coop than outdoors.  If you would like to create an herb garden for your chickens too click here.  It is great fun and rewarding for the entire family.  

Photo Credits: Tilly's Nest

July 5, 2012

Caring for your Flock on a Daily, Weekly, Monthly and Seasonal Basis

Keeping chickens happy and healthy, requires a bit of maintenance.  Often I tell people that the requirements are somewhere between keeping a cat and a dog.  The other day, I was glancing at the latest addition of the Martha Stewart Magazine.  Each month she proudly shares her private calendar with her readers.  She details everything from yard work, travel and yoga lessons.  I thought it might be easy to create a similar guide for backyard chicken keepers like myself.

Like most pets, chickens require daily care.  Even when we are on vacation, we like to have a neighbor check in on them by collecting eggs and replenishing their food and water.   Usually, finding someone to chicken sit is never a problem due to the reward of freshly laid eggs; cats and dogs can't do that!

I also like to mark my calendar for the less frequent duties.  This helps me to stay on track and recall when I last did a particular chore.  So, here is how we do things at Tilly's Nest.

Fresh feed and water~Always be sure that your flock has plenty of fresh food and water. It is a good idea to refill the waterers each day with new clean water.

Open the coop and close coop~I prefer to lock the flock in the coop during evenings for their own safety from predators. Early each morning, I open the coop door and at dusk I close the coop door. The best part about chickens is they usually put themselves to "bed".

Overall health check~Spend a few minutes each morning making sure that everyone comes out of the coop and that they all seem to be eating, drinking and acting like themselves.  This is a very quick easy way to assess whether any chicken feel under the weather.

Gather Eggs~ If possible, I recommend gathering eggs a few times per day.  This helps to ensure that they stay fresh, prevents hens from going broody and discourages egg eating.

Weather~Check to be sure your flock is prepared for hot days, snow storms, wind and rain.  If you are like me often you add a tarp to the run on not so nice days and close the windows just a bit to prevent a wet coop interior.  A shade tarp also works nicely in the hot afternoon sun.

Light tidying~I try to scoop up any "messes" that I notice.  For example, I will clean off the roosts in the morning if I find they have been freshly soiled.

Treats~Chickens love treats.  They are a great source of entertainment, prevent boredom and also diversify their diets.

Clean coop/tidy up~Each week I clean out the coop and replace the shavings.  During the cold Winters, I have been known to go sometimes two weeks.  It just depends on the amount of snow outside.

Refill Oyster Shells and Grit~These two important supplements are necessary for chickens to make strong egg shells and digest their food properly. They should have a constant supply that they can take from as they need. Small mounted plastic dishes work great for this. I top them off once a week.

Raking out the Run~Each week I gently rake out the run, fill in any dust bathing holes and remove any materials that don't break down, such as old corn cobs.

Stock up on supplies~ Each month I take a trip to the local feed store and pick up a 50 pound bag of feed and scratch. I replenish the oyster shells and grit and pick up a fresh bale of pine shavings.  I also love to check out new products and supplies.

Inspect and repair coop and run~Weather, predators and chickens can cause the coop or run to need repairs.  Once a season, you should inspect and make repairs as necessary.

Prepare for changes in weather~As the seasons change, so does the way you care for your chickens.  This is the time to prepare changes in temperatures and housing needs.

Deep Clean your Coop~This is the time to deep clean your coop.  Scrubbing down roosts, walls and floors with a bit of Dawn detergent, water and a splash of bleach.

Replace used items in your First Aid Kit~You should have a first aid kit for your flock.  Injuries and illness can happen very suddenly.  Be sure all medications have not expired and be sure you are fully stocked, especially with those frequently used products.

Remove excess soil in the run to compost~Each week after I clean out the coop, I toss the soiled shavings into the run for the girls to help compost.  They enjoy scratching in the shavings and it keeps them busy for hours.  Each month, I remove the excess from the run and place it on the side to "cure" for at least 4 months before I place it in my gardens.  I do however, in the Fall apply it directly to the barren raised vegetable beds.  When planting time comes in May, the waste is cured.

I created this chart based upon the above schedule.  Feel free to copy, print it and pin it close to your chicken keeping supplies.  When you complete a task just check it off.  The best part, is that you can print a new one year after year and you'll never forget when you last did something.

Click on the photo to enlarge and print

Photo and Chart Credit:  Tilly's Nest