Tag Archives: Backyard Chickens

Raising chicks while living off-grid

So yeah. I’m a sucker for chicks. That is a fully established fact.

Yup. That’s two MORE chicks to add to our menagerie.

I was not planning on buying more chicks. But the feed store I was in had these 5 week old Ameraucanas for sale for only $2 more than they were selling brand new chicks.

And two of our four Ameraucana chicks had died (being crushed) within the first week. I really wanted more Ameraucanas. So when I saw these 5 week old chicks, who are almost the same age as our original chicks, and at a reasonable price?

Well, how could I resist?

[Did I mention that I went to that feed store, miles out of my way,  because I heard they had 5 week old Ameraucanas? No? Oh, well, that will be our little secret, k?]

So as Flower Girl sat in the parking strip grass next to the laundromat today, cuddling one of the new chickies, I figured it was high time to detail out how we have raised our chicks while living off-grid in a camping trailer.

She’s the chicken whisperer for sure!

On April 19, we brought our first chicks home and fostered them to a broody hen who had been sitting on golf balls for about 6 weeks. It worked great. You can read that post HERE

A few days later we tried again with another broody hen. It didn’t work at all. So we had to implement our backup plan.

We knew we needed to raise these chicks in a brooder. We had just emptied a large plastic tote, so that would work perfect. But there was no way that our solar power system could run a traditional heat lamp.

As the weather warmed up, we were able to use the warmth of the sun during the day. 

Solar powered warmth for the chicks – at least on sunny days 😊 (PS, this pic was take  after we got our bantams – the original chicks were about 10 days old, and the bantams ranged from less than a week old to about 2ish weeks old)

But what about at night? Or when it was overcast or cold? Sure, their brooder box would be in the mud room, out of the elements, but April in Northern Nevada is still pretty chilly. Too chilly for newly hatched chicks.

I had seen some warming plates online that advertised that they only use 15watts, but even with Amazon’s 2-day shipping, it would still be several nights before we could get one and set it up. 

So, to keep our little chickies warm, we built a little hut out of some reflectix we had laying around. (Reflectix is a insulative mylar and bubble wrap material, basically what a lot of car windshield shades are made from.)

Reflectix hut inside the brooder box

We cut a hole just big enough for the chicks to get in and out.

So we had the hut made, but we still needed a heat source. So, we heated some water and put it in a quart size canning jar and placed it in the warming hut, making sure that the door was not blocked so the chicks could get in and out.

The hut was sized just right so that a quart size jar and 6 chicks could all fit in the hut together.

This worked great, except that the water needed to be reheated every 4 hours. Even in the middle of the night. Which meant that for three nights, I was getting up at 2am to reheat the water for the chicks. 

It reminded me of middle of the night feedings of the girls when they were babies. πŸ˜„

So after three nights of getting up at 2am, I was very glad to see this come in the mail. (This is not an affiliate link. I am not being paid or reimbursed or compensated by Amazon or Premier. I’m just giving an honest review of a product I actually bought.)

Warming plate for chicks

The under side gets to be about 110Β°F, just a bit warmer than a mamma hen. It’s easily adjustable in height to accommodate growing chicks, and advertised that it only takes 15 watts to run. 

Considering we are set up on solar power, and this would be running all night, a minimal power draw was essential. But we were skeptical, especially seeing that it was designed for a 220volt system (maybe because it’s made in Germany?) and we are running 110 through our inverter.

But we plugged it in and gave it a go. 

And it worked as advertised. Actually, the power consumption was even less. We hooked it up to our power meter, and it never drew more than 12watts. It and the refergerator could run all night long on our battery bank no problem. Providing the batteries were fully charged, of course.

When the chicks were about 3 weeks old, we got a new (to us) little coop and decided to put the chicks out there. The warming plate went with them, of course.

See the orange extension cord going through the closed window? That’s for the warming plate​ inside.

(Edited to add this photo since I finally found it.)


When they were between 4 and 5 weeks old, I noticed that they were no longer sleeping under the plate at right, rather preferring to cuddle up in a corner. After several nights of that, and with overnight lows expected to hold steady for a while, I turned off the warming plate. They haven’t needed it since. Even our smallest chick, our bantam frizzle, who is still so very tiny, would snuggle her way into the middle of the pile to stay warm. I thought for sure she’d be crushed. But she’s a tough little thing. (As a side note, at 4 weeks was also about the time our mamma hen stopped mothering the chicks in the other flock. Seems 4-5 weeks is the magic age for chicks to be mature enough to “be on their own”.)

The chicks are now between 6 and 7 weeks old (except for our newest ones who are 5ish weeks). They recently got a small run to roam around in outside.

New small run on the Brooder Coop

Soon we’ll start letting them free range in the afternoons with all the other hens and chicks (and Cogburn the Rooster). And this week, the bantams are going to their new home at my parents’ house (that’s been the plan all along), so there will be more room for everyone as they continue to grow. 

So there you have it. How we raised chicks in a brooder while living in a camping trailer off-grid. 

And now the question begs to be asked. Which way do I prefer – letting a mamma hen raise the chicks or raising them in a brooder? Honestly, I can’t decide. There are pros and cons to both systems, especially the way we have things set up here. Let me think on it and get back to you, k? πŸ˜‰

Chicken news – in pictures

I wanted to share with you all the excitement that’s been going on here on the homestead regarding our chickens. Our flock(s) have multiplied significantly recently ( we are apparently the victims of #chickenmath πŸ˜ƒ). So here’s a bunch of pictures of all things chickens.

1st of all, here’s how we keep food and water reserved for the chicks in with the rest of the flock (otherwise the adults eat it all and the chicks don’t get any). The handle holes in the crates are just big enough for the chicks, but keep the adults out.

Our new flock of Rhode Island Reds that we inherited (and one Barred Rock). They are all pretty old, but we’re still getting about a dozen eggs a day out of 20 hens. We’ll keep them for the summer.

Our new rooster, “Cogburn”. He’s a real sweetheart.

Yes, as in Rooster Cogburn πŸ˜ƒ

We re-homed our mean rooster, Mr Darcy, back to his original owner.


We impulsively brought home 5 Asian Black chicks…


…and 7 miscellaneous bantams. And, yes, most of the bantams will not be kept. I have no use for “ornamental” breeds


Except for possibly this one. She’s soooo adorable! She might get to stay.

And this one, the smallest of the lot, who’s​ feathers are just starting to curl up. It’s a Frizzle! Even though I have a suspicion it’s a boy, I still wanna keep him!

We are letting the Asian chicks free-range during the day since we don’t really have another place set up for them yet. They are doing great and starting to get braver. Before they start ranging too far, we will put them in the new coop we were given.

Speaking of the new coop, here it is, just getting off the trailer. We have the most amazing friends!

We’ve started bringing the brooder chicks out to get some sun. This means that we don’t have to run their warming plate all day and our batteries have a better chance of charging during the day.

Here’s the coop and run we made out of pallets

The cute sign my mom my made for our coop.

That’s it for now. Tons going on. Life is full.

Fostering chicks

So. We live in an off-grid tiny home (ie a 280 square foot camping trailer) and we’re busy building a house. Just the situation and time to bring home 17 baby chicks from the feed store, right?

No? You don’t think so?

I think you’re probably right. But we brought them home anyway. 

You see, we had a plan!

We had two hens go broody, and while we eventually decided that we didn’t want them to hatch any of our own eggs (we don’t want our rooster procreating), the idea of baby chicks had taken hold.

So, we put one of the hens in her own penthouse suite (ie, and old dog crate), and let the other sit in one of the egg laying nests in the main coop.

Broody hen in her kennel

Both hens were sitting on a few golf balls. These make excellent, cheap imitation eggs. 

Our plan was to let them sit on their “eggs” for a few weeks, then buy chicks from the feed store and do a little switcheroo and the hen will think her “eggs” hatched.

Or so the theory goes. 

And I’m here to tell you that it works! 

Kinda.

Here’s our story.

On Wednesday, April 19 we bought 9 chicks (4 Gold Sexlinks, 4 Ameracaunas, and 1 Golden Laced Wyandotte). We gave the chicks to our broody Austra White, “Bluebell” (so named because she has a blue band on her leg) at about 4pm. 

Bluebell and a couple of her new chicks

She was a bit confused at first, and the chicks didn’t know what she was, but within about 10 minutes, all the babies were snuggled up under their new mamma and she was happily clucking away to them.
The next morning, they were all out in the enclosure I set up inside the coop so that they had a bit of space to move around, but would be separated from the rest of the flock. They hung out in this space for a couple days. I figured by using crates, the other hens would be able to get used to the chicks so that by the time I started letting them out into the larger area and even out into the run, there shouldn’t be any problems.

Inside their enclosure inside the coop.

At this point, everything was going so well. I was exstatic that it was working out just as I’d read about. Bluebell was a good mamma. She kept the babies warm when needed, and was even careful how she stepped around them.

Good mamma, keeping her babies warm!

I was excited for Phase 2: more chicks to give to “Roadie”, our other broody hen.
On Friday, April 21, we bought another 8 chicks (4 Welsummers, 2 Barred Rocks, and 2 Delawares.)

We attempted to repeat our success.

And that’s where everything went to pot.

Roadie rejected the chicks! 😞 She kept pecking them away. More on that later.

So now we had 17 chicks and only one mamma hen. I have heard stories of a hen hatching out and caring for a large brood, so I figured we’d try giving the other chicks to Bluebell and hope she could raise them. At least for the night until we got a brooder of some sort set up for some of them.

It worked. Kinda. 

On Saturday morning, I found a chick dead in the nest box. It had been crushed. 😒 Seems 17 was just too many. Go figure.

And a weird thing that morning is that Bluebell was pecking at two of the new chicks. Just the two Barred Rocks. None of the others. So we rescued those two and set up a brooder box for them. And we figured that since we had to do it for two of them, we’d pick out several others and lighten Bluebell’s load. 

So, besides the two Barred Rocks, we grabbed a Welsummer, a Sexlink, the Wyandotte, and one of the Ameracaunas. The Wyandotte and that particular Ameracauna are special to Flower Girl and Princess Girl. 

That left 10 chicks with Bluebell. Five of them are from the older group, and 5 are from the younger group. Two days age difference doesn’t make hardly any difference at all.

And she has been a great mamma. They are just over a week old now and have started roaming outside and even free-ranging with the flock. 

Mamma in the chicken run, babies small enough to free range through the fence. (But they never get too far from mamma!)

The other hens and the rooster leave the chicks alone, even Roadie who is back in with the flock. I have seen Bluebell run off the other hens if she doesn’t want them around, and she gets antsy if the chicks wander too far away from her, especially if they are on the other side of the fence from her!

It is great to have all those little chickies running around! 

I feel kinda bad for the ones in the brood box in our mudroom. They don’t get to run and scratch and play outside like Bluebell’s brood. Maybe I’ll have Flower Girl take them outside tomorrow and set up a little space where they can get some of the same experience. πŸ˜ƒ

Chicks in the brooder box

So, remember when I mentioned that Roadie was pecking at the chicks and Bluebell pecked at only certain ones? I have a theory why that happened.

In Roadie’s kennel crate, I had noticed that mice were getting in to eat her food. Annoying, but I didn’t think to much of it till she started pecking at the chicks. I betcha that she didn’t know the difference between her babies and the pesky mice that would come to eat her out of house and home. And the Barred Rock chicks are black, so maybe Bluebell also thought they were mice since I see evidence of them in the coop from time to time. I dunno. I could be crazy. Roadie could just be a bad mom. And Bluebell could just not like the color black. Either way, I think before I try the kennel again for a broody hen, I’ll have to find a way to solve the mouse problem.

So that is our success story, and our failure. I learned a lot and hope you did, too. 

I’ll write up another post about how we have the brooder set up, and what we did until we got a heat source that would work on our off-grid solar system.

Daily Life #2 – Chicken Run Repairs

Earlier today I posted a picture on our Facebook page about doing something very homesteaderly today. I think I was inspired by yesterday’s post!

I finally went out and bought the supplies I needed to fix the chicken run roof.

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Yup, some clear corrugated roofing.

When we built the chicken run last year, we put up a cheap tarp to keep an area of the run dry (because it rains here ya know. A lot!). As you can imagine, after a year out in the elements, that tarp was rather worthless.

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So, I prepared my tools, strapped on my belt, and got to work.

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First I cut down the ratty old tarp.

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Then I measured, marked, and cut the plastic roofing.

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While I was working on that, Princess girl was being a great help by removing the nails from some boards I took out down from the chicken run.

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And yes, that is Flower Girl up in that tree. She has just discovered that she can climb it with no help.

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Look at that face!

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Meanwhile, back in the chicken run… I then screwed the cut panels in place, making sure to overlap the edges so that the rain won’t drip through. And, voila! new roof on the chicken run!

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This post is proof that you don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment to get work done around the homestead. My toolbelt is not a fancy or totally expensive one, but it gets the job done, and I’ve had it for years and not even absolutely necessary. The drill I used to screw the panels up is a simple little cordless thing, that we again have had for years. And if I didn’t have it, I could have used a hammer and nails. The only specialty tool I used was the tin snips, but again, I could have just used a sharp knife. I didn’t even have a ladder(because it was too big for the job and I didn’t want to drag it into the muddy, mucky chicken run)! I used a combination of a step stool and a sturdy plastic chair we had in the back yard.

With a little ingenuity and the willingness to get dirty, you can accomplish a lot.

And speaking of getting dirty, I decided that since I was already icky from working in there and because it needed to be done, I would clean out the coop and spruce things up.

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It looks so nice and bright with the clear panels. I’m looking forward to having dry space in the run again.

We already have to take measures to keep their food dry.

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We put their food in a tray to keep it off the soggy ground.

And give them sand to “bathe” in.

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I keep their water out in the open rather than under the cover. This serves two purposes. When I fill it and if they spill it, it doesn’t get the protected area all wet. Also, since it is exposed to the rain, God often fills it up for me. πŸ™‚ By elevating it on a cinder block, the girls don’t fowl it nearly as often (pun intended). πŸ˜‰

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Hubby and I are rather proud of our chicken run and coop. We hardly spent any money to put it together. And I realized that I’ve never really shown it off. The coop itself is a cabinet we bought at the Habitat for Humanity Re-store for $2.50. Yup, two dollars and fifty cents!

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As you can see from the above picture, I cut a hole in the bottom of one of the doors for the chickens to enter. Inside there are a series of levels and ladders and roosts for the hens to sleep.

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There is also a cut out at the middle level where they access the nest box, which is the brown box attached to the side.

We keep the food in a kitchen trash can with a lid. It is the perfect size for a 50lb bag of feed. We also keep a bale of straw wrapped in a tarp under the eve of the house.

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Other than the straw, cabinet, and nails and screws (and now the clear roofing panels) we didn’t spend anything to build our run and coop. It is nearly all recycled materials. Even one of the doors is an old screen door.

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So, now the coop and run are clean and dry once more.

Do you think the hens care?

Nope.

They are over in the compost corner.

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You do what you can with what you have. You start where you are. And nearly everyone, if they’ve got any land at all and it’s legal where they live, could find enough space in their life for a few chickens.

Maridy

“I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121

Happy New Year

I know, I know.

I’m a little late with my holiday greetings. But as I said in my family newsletter (which I just sent out a few days ago), better late than never, right?

I’ve been doing a lot of reflection the past couple of weeks, as is typical this time of year. And also looking toward the future of this year. Are any of you already planning for your spring and summer gardens? Now’s the time to order your seeds and in some cases, get them started indoors.

I just read this online article (How to Pick Your Vegetable Seeds Without Going Crazy) and it’s got me dreaming!

But alas, my biggest decision this year is that I am scaling way back on my plans for our garden. Any when you have a tiny plot anyway, “scaling way back” means that I don’t plan to do much of any gardening this year.

The reason why is actually pretty exciting. We are hoping to be in the process of actually building our house this summer. Which means frequent trips between Oregon and Nevada. And as I learned last year, my garden doesn’t do so well if I’m not around to care for it. Imagine that. πŸ™‚

So, I’ll probably throw some carrot seeds in the ground and call it good. Those were what did the best and we ate the most of last year. And I love that they are frost tolerant and you can leave them in the ground all season and just go out and grab some as you need them.

It kills me not to really be making plans for the garden. But the trade off is worth it as we make progress onΒ our house.

A couple days ago was a fairly mild day here in the Portland area, overcast but dry and not too cold. So I used the opportunity to get outside and do some yard work.

Almost done! And it's a good thing, too, because the debris can is almost full!

Almost done! And it’s a good thing, too, because the debris can is almost full!

I scooped up the walnut leaves and put them in the yard debris can. Yes, we have a compost pile, but not the right set up to cook the toxins out of walnut leaves.

Just after New Years, we had snow here. It was a rare treat for us in the Pacific Northwest. Normally, any time there’s snow here, it’s covered in ice. This was a light, fluffy, “dry” snow. At the beginning of the day it wouldn’t even compact into snowballs. The girls and I spent 3 hours playing outside.

Our back yard looked quite different with a thin layer of snow.

 

And then, that night, a freezing rain came in, covering everything in a layer of ice.

For this girl from the desert, ice storms are pretty magical. It is surreal to see ice coating everything. However, I am glad no one in our family had to go anywhere. One of those times I am thankful that my man works from home.

The hens don't mind a bit of snow.

The hens don’t mind a bit of snow.

We had a bit of sad news recently. One of our hens (“Pepper”) was killed by a predator of some sort. Considering it was during the middle of the day in broad daylight, we think it was one of the many neighborhood cats.

Flower Girl with Pepper this past spring.

Flower Girl with Pepper this past spring.

Now we’re down to three hens, one of which doesn’t lay very many eggs per year and none in the winterΒ (our English Game Hen). The other two, however, have laid fairly steadily this winter (after their molt), even without supplemental lighting (for more information on supplemental light in the chicken coop, see this great article from Jill at The Prairie Homestead). I would love to add to our little backyard flock, but then I think of how much we are hoping to be gone this summer. And I think of transporting them back to Nevada when we do finally go. And I think, three chickens is enough. For now. πŸ™‚

And in the mean time, we’re dreaming. We’re dreaming big!

Maridy

“I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121

First Frost

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We had our first frost here in the Portland area this morning. November 22nd and we just now froze! Gosh, the growing season is long here!

I love frosty mornings even if it does mean a bit more work to care for the animals.

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This morning’s chore was pretty easy, though. I just broke the ice layer in the chicken’s water dish and plucked it out. Not so easy when it get’s frozen solid.

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Frost sure is beautiful. God’s design frequently amazes me.

How’s the weather in your neck of the woods?

Maridy

“I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121

Garden update

While we were in Nevada, Dad decided that the big garden was done for the season. This is good news for the chickens.

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They are happily roaming the backyard again.

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Scaredy thinks the garden is her personal dust bath.

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Our small garden is going pretty well. The kale is finally taking off. I’m thinking I might still plant some spinach in the spot that the lettuce was in this spring. But I don’t know.

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The carrots have done well. We have really enjoyed eating those straight out of the garden this year (after a washing, of course!). I don’t think my squash is going to do anything. But you never know. We still have a month or so left of growing season (I know, right?!) Yes, it’s fall season, but on average, we won’t get our first frost for another month or so.

My container garden did not do so well this year. At least not nearly as well as I would have liked.

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The tomato plants were tall and scraggly and only produced a few tomatoes each.

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Nearly all the bean plants and flowers have struggled or flat out died.

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Really, the only thing I can say did half way decent was the jalapeno plant.

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And even then, the only reason I think it did well is because I don’t use jalapenos very often, so it has produced more than enough.

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Oh, and the garlic actually survived. I was shocked to see it growing back after not being watered all summer.

So, nothing did very well in the containers. I’ve been trying to figure out why and I think I have it nailed down.

Neglect.

Yep, that’s right. When a person travels at least one week out of nearly every month, things at home tend to get neglected. Especially since for me, all the days in between are filled with catching up or preparing for next time. Somehow, making sure the plants had the right nutrients, enough water, the proper sunlight as the season change, etc wasn’t high on my list.

Though I was glad to see that the crushed egg shells I put on the tomato plants stopped any more blossom end rot. And I did give them all a compost tea at some point. But it just wasn’t enough, I don’t think. That and maybe I didn’t have big enough containers. Or maybe they got too much sun. Or not enough.

And now here it is, the beginning of October and I really haven’t gotten much out of my plants.

But. They still have fruit on them, and I’m reluctant to give up on them when I know they can survive a while longer.

However, where they were on the deck was getting too shady with the waning season. So I moved them down to a corner of the otherwise barren big garden.

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They still look forlorn and scraggly, but I’m hoping that at least this was they’ll get the sunlight they need to survive for a while longer. Hopefully long enough to get me a few more tomatoes.

Well that’s it for now. How did your garden do this year?

Maridy

“I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121