The Space-Farm New Chick Cheat Sheet: From Brooder to Coop

In preparation for spring fence building, I pulled out our folder with all of our backyard ideas and drawings and found this gem: our week-by-week chick cheat sheet from last March.

20130303. New chick checklist.

I thought it might be useful to document this in a slightly more permanent place, both for us if we ever decide to get day-old chicks again and for anyone jumping into the backyard chicken ring this spring.

The Space-Farm Chick Cheat Sheet: From Brooder to Coop in Six Weeks!

Week/Day Chick Tending Tasks
Week 1, Day 1
  • The chicks arrive!
  • Brooder temp: 90-95 degrees
  • Cover pine shavings with paper towel for first several days
  • Leave extra light on for first two days, 24/7 (this can be very dim – you should JUST be able to read a book in the light emitted)
  • Mix crushed oatmeal/cornmeal mix in with food for first three days
  • Check bums every day, twice a day for pasting up/sticky bums! Tend to immediately if you discover any pasting up
Week 1, Day 3
  • Add chick grit
  • You can turn the extra light off during the day; turn it on for about 30 minutes each night for the rest of Week 1
Week 1, Day 5
  • Clean brooder, remove paper towels from pine shavings
  • Put mini perch/roost into brooder
Week 2/Day 8
  • Brooder temp: 85-90 degrees
  • Clean brooder
  • Put cover on brooder – the chicks will start using their wings soon!
Week 3/Day 15
  • Brooder temp: 80-85 degrees
  • Clean brooder and upsize it if necessary
Week 4/Day 22
  • Brooder temp: 75-80 degrees
  • Clean brooder
Week 5/Day 29
  • Brooder temp: 70 degrees
  • Clean brooder
  • Begin introducing the girls to the outside on warmer days
  • Prep the coop
Week 6/Day 36
  • It’s a big day: time to move out to the coop (assuming it’s not still really cold where you live)!
  • Switch to developer feed
Extra Notes: All About Feed
  • Chick Starter: 0-6 weeks (20-24% protein)
  • Developer Feed: 6-20 weeks (14-16% protein)
  • Layer Ration: 20 weeks (16-18% protein); also introduce calcium/oyster shell around this time

Calling all chicken tenders (HA!): any major things I’m forgetting here?

The Best Chicken Soup EVER?!

I am currently making chicken noodle soup with the broth from the chicken I slaughtered and processed with my own two hands back in July. If that’s not badass, I don’t know what is. In case you were wondering, it smells like magic. Chicken-y magic.

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.

In honor of soup, I give you this amazing song, which I know (and sing regularly), word for word.

Jinx Removing?


BREAKING NEWS: Yoshi/Dino Puppy lives!

Cue angry parent of a teenager voice: How was your little adventure away from home, chicken? Huh? Oh, you’re HUNGRY?! Oh, you poor thing. WE THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD!

Today after work, Chris was working out front while I supervised our four remaining chickens in the backyard (and by this, I mean drank beer, read a book, and rubbed chicken bellies… tough life, I know). Our neighbor Stuart comes over: “Hey, did you lose a rooster?” Chris affirms that we have, in fact, lost a chicken.

Apparently, Yoshi/Dino Puppy/that gray one made it out of our fenced in area of the backyard and through the one crack in our privacy fence, across the street, past countless neighbors’ dogs, over two other fences, and into Stuart’s backyard neighbors’ place – to weather a gigantic storm and two nights out on her own.

If I wasn’t so glad to see the dang bird, I’d wring her neck! Instead, we locked her in the run, let her chow down on chicken kibble for a bit, then let her peruse the yard with the rest of the girls. They were all immediately back to normal with her there. The flock is complete again.

I mean this in the kindest, most loving mama hen sort of way, but… BITCH ASS CHICKEN. Seriously, though… chicken lockdown is in effect.

And thank you for all the kind words on our last post. In honor of (maybe) removing our chicken jinx (maybe?!), I give you Jawbreaker’s “Jinx Removing.”

We’re too smart to watch TV, we’re too dumb to make believe this is all we want from life. I’m too dumb to talk to you, you’re so quick to listen to me. I’m saying nothing you don’t know.

Jinxing the Chickens

Chris woke up at 7 to let the chickens out of the run. At 9, I went to check on them – and Yoshi/Dino Puppy/that gray one was missing. Totally gone. No blood, no excessive feathers anywhere – just gone.

We’re assuming a bird of prey got a taste of her yesterday (see dried blood on beak, freaked out chickens) and came back to finish the job today.

I feel like we are cursed in the chicken department, and I’m mad that I’ll never hear her dino-like squawk again. I’m also holding out hope that I’ll glance up from the kitchen and see her running head-long across the back of the yard.

The remaining chickens will be in their attached run until further notice. We’ve ordered more hardware cloth to expand the run and begun thinking of ways to close the ends of the wagon so we can move them about the yard, give them fresh grass, and still keep them safe. The balancing act between giving them a good life with access to fresh pasture and protecting them is a tough one.

20120808. Yoshi Takashite, aka Dino Puppy.Update: She lives!


Unidentified Flying Objects – of the Chicken Variety

Anything unidentified and flying has the possibility to incite curiosity, concern, confusion, fear, and, yes, even trauma. Add chickens to the equation and, well… yeah. You’ll see.

Rewind to this morning: we wake up, drink coffee, chill with the chickens for a bit, then drive out to Anderson Orchard to pick a peck of apples (we really did pick a peck). I was blissfully unaware of what I would face upon returning home.

20120825. Quiet morning.

20120825. Quiet morning with the chickens.

The girls seemed quite peaceful this morning, didn’t they?

We get home and unload our TWO pecks of apples (24 pounds total – apple sauce, IMMA EATCHOO). I head out to the backyard to check on the chickens, as per my norm.

20120825. We picked a peck.

What a peck looks like.

The chickens are nowhere to be found. That’s weird. Then I hear a clucking from the coop. That’s even weirder. All five girls are loaded into the coop, even though it’s noon on what may turn out to be a scorcher of a day. An August-in-its-death-throes kind of day.

Then I notice BLOOD on Yoshi/Dino Puppy/that gray one’s beak. I scoop her up, but there are no obvious signs of physical damage beyond the already dried blood on the bridge of her beak. However, the chicken trauma meter is obviously dialed up to 11. Yoshi and Boo are both panting, and Little Red is the only one who will leave the coop when coaxed with snacks.

20120825. Little Red likes shoulder perching.

Some chickens are lap chickens. Little Red is a shoulder chicken.

Chickens denying snacks? Something must be wrong. THEN, as Yoshi/Dino Puppy is heading back up the ramp to the safety of the coop, a giant GUSHING MESS comes out of her backside! Not poop, oh no. Near as we can tell, it is a shell-less egg, looking exactly like an egg white. I have the joy of actually seeing it, and as I later lament about the overall WTF-iness of it all, Chris says, kind of quietly, “I didn’t see it… but I HEARD it.”

See? I told you. Trauma all around. UFO OF EPIC PROPORTIONS.

So here’s what we think might have happened: THE BLOOD. Maybe a predator of some sort nicked Yoshi and left the other girls totally freaked out. Or maybe she got into it with one of the other girls, went to hide out in the coop, and the other girls followed her (they are quite bonded together as a flock now).

THE UFO: Upon further research into the UFO, shell-less eggs are often precursors to the real deal when a pullet is first starting to lay eggs. Perhaps the stress of whatever happened caused her to expel that particular bun in the oven prematurely? Or perhaps the UFO is completely unrelated to the bloody beak.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY: All’s well that ends well, we hope. The girls now appear totally fine, and, of greatest excitement to us, we may actually see our first (fully shelled) egg any day now!

Oregon or Bust!

Chris built a covered wagon for our chickens last night! Okay, okay, it’s actually extra shelter from airborne predators. But! It’s on WHEELS! And it’s the size of our raised beds so, if we just add sides, we can plunk them down on top of the beds and have the chickens process our beds this fall!

I keep having flashbacks to playing Oregon Trail in the library in junior high, back when our computers were black screens with orange block text and I had a really pitiful perm, braces, and giant glasses. Remember those computer screens? Our chickens now have a wagon! They must stock up supplies so they can forge the mighty Mississippi with their team of oxen! Then they have to avoid cholera and typhoid fever!

No? Just me? Okay, anyway…

20120805. Chris built a covered wagon for the chickens. Go, Oregon Trail.

Chris built the base, I sewed the canvas. TEAMWORK.

20120805. Chris built a covered wagon for the chickens. Go, Oregon Trail.

The girls are easily bribed with mealworms.

20120805. Chris built a covered wagon for the chickens. Go, Oregon Trail.

Me. In the covered wagon. Counting out my supplies to see if we have enough to make it to the next trading post.

20120805. Chris built a covered wagon for the chickens. Go, Oregon Trail.

Once we took the tent down (thank goodness we did as we got a huge storm that very night), there was very little cover from the skies. We’re getting apple trees in the fall… but they will be baby apple trees. Some sort of additional cover was pretty necessary.

Maybe we’ll run into Lewis and Clark on our voyage.

Part 2: Chicken Processing, the Rusty Clippers, and Thanking Your Bird

As mentioned previously, Chris and I recently attended a poultry processing workshop, held by Distelrath Farms (aka my new favorite people/place). The fine people at Distelrath just posted photos, so I thought I would share a little more of our experience.

While I don’t think the photos are anything to get queasy over (especially not compared to what “processing” means for the vast majority of chicken consumed in this country), this post does contain chickens in various states of undress. And, let’s face it – my bar for things to get queasy over might be slightly more elevated than some.

Step 1: Catch the chickens. Chris hopped right into one of the moveable runs they had out in the pasture, but I let the first gal who hopped in grab one for me. Hey, I chase after chickens all the time in the backyard, and she seemed quite good at it. I figured I’d expedite the process.

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.

Step 2: Get a good knife sharpening lesson from Andrew as he preps the knives, water, buckets, etc. While getting this lesson, freak out internally and hide the fact that you keep thinking to yourself, “Am I really doing this? CAN I really do this? OMG, I really hope I can do this. Breathe. Breathe.”

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.

MOO! MOO! Oh, you’re processing chickens today? Hmmm, haven’t seen any. Have you checked behind the shed? MOO!

Step 3: Hang chickens up by their feet, take more deep breaths, get a lesson in knife work and how to cut the jugular, and then… do it. The chickens became very calm the second we hung them up and started closing their eyes – which helped with the whole mental/psychic part of this. We paired up, and since I had the knife in my hand, I went first. Gulp.

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.

This is my less-than-thrilled face re: what is about to occur. In Andrew’s words: “I’m not going to lie: this part sucks.”

Step 4: Learn how to process the chicken from start to finish! They don’t have a plucker there, so we learned how to skin the chicken and part it. Here’s Andrew showing how to remove the legs (I think). For me, this is where all those biology dissection classes kicked in (I also can’t help but think of all the chicken parts I uncovered every time I rub Dino Puppy’s belly or Beaker’s chest – creepy, I know. Don’t tell them).

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.Step 5: Actually doing it! At the beginning, I did a lot of patting the (now dead) bird and saying, “Thank you, bird.” For real, I did.

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.

Ah, those rusty shears. Here I am in the process of skinning the bird and about to cut off the head.

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.

I think I was trying to figure out what was needing to be pulled out and what needed to stay in at this point.

Step 6: Chris gets his turn.

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.Step 7: Rinse, clean, quality control, wrap up your birds… then pose proudly with your fellow bird processing partners in crime!

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.

What a great experience. If anyone has specific questions about the process, I’m happy to go into tons of detail. I just didn’t want to belabor the whole thing too terribly much. Anyway… ask away!

Part 1: Chicken Processing, the Dungeon, and a Pig Named Pat

And now for something completely different: today, I learned how to kill and process a chicken from start to finish (in other words, from feathered friend poking through the dirt to wrapped-in-freezer-paper carcass in my fridge ready for dinner). It was a strangely amazing, empowering experience, and I really think anyone who eats meat should learn what we learned today.

Distelrath Farms put on the workshop, and I am a new huge fan of the place and the people. Seriously, I want to work for them. Andrew taught and demonstrated and guided with humor, respect, and expertise, while Rachel snapped photos and offered good company and words of encouragement. However, the really cool thing for me about the place, which launched in February, is their passion for education and bringing young kids out in the dirt. It reminded me of my days working for the park service and non-profits in the Bay area, teaching kids about the animals and ecosystems right in front of their noses. This is going to be a place to watch in the coming years, Indianapolis – heck, I know I will be. And they have a “rescued” potbellied pig named Pat (after the SNL character) and Jill, the nicest donkey I’ve ever met, so what’s not to love?

summer 2002. this kid was rad. i was giving her some tough questions before she got her official jr. ranger badge.

Ten years ago, my second summer as a ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park.

There were eight of us attending the workshop, and we established a certain camaraderie early on just by the very nature of what we were about to do, I think. Some had laying hens or home flocks, one fellow was looking into buying a farm in Kentucky and starting a pastured broiler operation, another was a member of the farm. When we first called to register, Andrew’s response was, “Cool! [Long pause]… So, are you ready for this?” I think my response was an uncertain, “Ummm… I *think* so!”

And, frankly, I still wasn’t certain I was ready for it as I stood under the trees holding a very sharp knife, standing next to a calm chicken hanging from his feet, one hand looped gently around my Rhode Island Red’s beak and comb, preparing to cut his jugular vein on both sides. The anxiety of NOT MESSING UP was strong. Usually when you mess something up, you fix it or it sucks for a while until the pain wears off or it ends up not being nearly as big of a deal as you thought. With this, though, I wanted very much to dispatch this creature as kindly and humanely as I could. I missed the jugular on one side but managed to get it without much of a problem on the other side. Andrew referred to the otherwise lovely spot under the trees as “the dungeon.”

It is true that chickens’ nervous systems kick in when they die, which is where the “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” thing comes from. I didn’t realize, however, that you have about 20-30 seconds after severing the jugular before that occurs. I held the chicken’s head gently to help the blood drain for a bit before flapping occurred. Then we let them bleed out while we got the rest of the processing stuff ready to go (basically, a knife, a table, a water source, and a bucket).

Next up: processing the birds. I’m going to wait, though, until Rachel uploads some photos to share more. For now, I am so glad that I took part in this. I think if more people were exposed to learning events like this, they would slowly begin re-thinking how they live, how they eat, and what their relationships are or should be with the rest of the living creatures in this world. I also feel a little like I can conquer the world, too – or at least someday maybe have a broiler operation of my own.

20120728. Distelrath Farms' chicken processing workshop: Chris' chicken.

Chris’ chicken, which was a male Leghorn. We’re trying beer can chicken, then I’ll turn the leftovers into probably the best broth ever.

Radio Silent re: Chickens

I haven’t talked much about the new group of chickens, and I’ve been untangling why that is. Part of it is that I don’t want to jinx myself. If I say one day, “They’re doing fantastically well!”, I have more than a slight fear that I will be setting us up for an update a week later that they’ve all died some horrible death. Since I’m a) not ready for death again and b) nearly certain that I will be jinxing us by writing about them, I’ve been somewhat silent.

I think I’m also trying to distance myself as much as possible (which is damn near impossible when you have sweet girls like Beaker and Puppy/Dinosookus/Dino Puppy/Houdini and Little Red on your hands – more on that in a sec) and, as a result, have constructed a tiny, chicken-sized wall up between the girls and everyone else. When three of the four first girls died in the heat at the end of June, a lot of people expressed how sad they were to hear the news, partly, of course, because I was so heartsick over it, but also because they had felt like they had been a part of the adventure, too, in some small way. We invited people along for the ride, and then we failed to hold up our end of the bargain.

Again, these are some of the things I’ve been considering as I embark on this totally new way of living and being and sustaining and thriving with the help of five hilarious, goofy, sweet, personality-laden animals.

I’ve decided, though, that all of the above is rubbish, and it’s time to do a proper introduction of the flock as it stands now. Knock on wood, although we still have some chicken sickness going around and Little Red still spends her nights in the office, they are getting along famously and don’t seem too bothered by whatever nasty disease it is they have. So, let’s got on with it, shall we? From big to small, we have…

Beaker, the Easter Egger: Beaker is the only remaining girl from our first flock, raised from day-old babies in March. Shhh, don’t tell the others, but she has been our favorite for a long time. This Saturday, Chris and I will be attending a poultry processing workshop at Distelrath Farms here in Indy to learn how to butcher chickens. More on that later, too. The reason I mention it here is that people keep asking if we will ever be able to butcher our layers; in Beaker’s case (aka THE CHICK WHO LIVED), no. Never. She will get old and gray(er) in our backyard, walking with a little chicken walker and squawking far too loudly due to her old-lady deafness, if all goes according to my personal plan. Maybe I’m still a little too wounded to speak objectively on the subject, though.

20120723. Beaker... I think you've got a little something on your... yeah, right there. No, a little to the right. THERE.

“Hey, Beaker… you got a little something on your… yeah, right there… no, no, a little to the left…”

Within two minutes of sitting outside to read, this is what happens. Every. Time.

Beaker enjoys reading, long walks on the beach, and creeping on you while you’re relaxing in the backyard.

The Gray Easter Egger: Next up is Lady Gray, also known as Puppy (for her love of following us around like a puppy and falling asleep at our feet while being petted), Dinosookus (for her low, long, dino-like squawk), Dino Puppy (see past two names), and, the latest, Houdini (for her love of escaping the back fenced in chicken area).

20120706. The gray Easter Egger.

She’s such a pretty girl, even if she did bring DISEASE to our house.

Then Chris came home...

Both the Easter Eggers enjoy quality chill time with the human populace.

The Australorp: Poor girl doesn’t have a name yet. She assumed role of mama to Little Red the second we got them home, so perhaps some variation of Mama/Madre/Mader will settle in. She doesn’t like the human kind too terribly much (I actually haven’t picked her up in a week or so), but her dedication to Little Red has been downright adorable.

20120706. Australorp + Little Red = buddies for LIFE.

This was their first day at home with us – July 2.

20120703. The Australorp - guessing she's about 8 weeks old.

Boo, the Leghorn: Boo is very flighty/scared of everything, thus the name. However, we’ve also decided (and by “we,” I mean “I”) that “Boo” can be short for Bourgeoisie, because she may also be a little stuck-up. She is one of the two outdoor girls who have shown signs of sickness. If she pulls through, though, she should be a heavy lifter in the egg laying department and our only girl to produce white eggs. Leghorns are the standard breed for grocery store eggs. She and the Australorp are arguing a bit over who’s top dog – at least, in their weight class.

20120723. Boo maxin' and relaxin'.

Poor girl’s a little under the weather still.

20120706. Bourgeoisie, the chicken. Boo for short.

Little Red, the Rhode Island Red: Last but only least in size is Little Red. She got her name on day one, and I am most in danger of loving her out of all the new girls (don’t tell Dino Puppy). We actually had another red picked out and in-hand when this little wisp of a thing came running across the grass towards us. I still love watching her run around the backyard, head held high, tiny body grazing the grass, legs spinning like your legs spin out of control while running headlong down a sand dune. I keep thinking she’s not growing, but I think it’s just because she is so very small.

She was the first to show signs of illness and spent several days in the office with me. Now she’s hanging in gen pop during the day and coming in at night to sleep on her own until she gets big enough to vie for a spot in the coop. We thought she was five weeks old when we got her just because she was so brave and spunky… but she can’t be more than 6 weeks now. So, yeah – I’m glad to say she’s doing much better and am hopeful she’s gotten past her roughest baby patches.

20120723. Breaking news! Little Red is still tiny.

20120703. The wee Rhode Island Red. I'm guessing she's only 5 weeks old.

BREAKING NEWS: Little Red Still Tiny.

There. I did it.

How to Do Nearly Everything Wrong

I’m pretty convinced that we have been doing everything wrong this year. There is really no reason to try to comfort us and tell us we haven’t. This probably says more about my own chronic self-doubt and second guessing than anything (weird when you compare that to my general must act now/impulsive attitude), although re: chicken raising, I’m pretty certain we have, in fact, done everything wrong.

I just hope we make it to the other side to write an undoubtedly HIGH-LARIOUS book about how wrong we are. As it is, we have an upper respiratory thing going on right now with the chickens because we were idiots who thought Beaker needed a flock more than she needed quarantined, healthy chickies to join her.

And that’s just the start of How We Have Done Things Wrong.

I can’t think of that now, however. We did things wrong, we will learn from it, and now we just have to make the best of it and hope that all of our chickens end up being strong and tough and full of spunk. So far, they are all hanging in there famously and, aside from a few runny noses and a LOT of chicken disease research, they all seem fairly happy with each other and in general.

Fingers and all other pink parts are crossed (along with electrolytes and yogurt and frequent/obsessive checking) that we didn’t set these girls up for failure and doom. I hope I’m not reading this entry in another month and kicking myself for not DOING MORE (see? there’s that good old self-doubt and second guessing coming in).

In keeping with this whole half-empty/half-full theme I’ve got going tonight…

Sad Trombone
My pitiful little carrot (note that it is supposed to be that color… just not that misshapen and totally squishy).
20120712. Carrots are not my strong suit.

Dying yellow squash plants, which is heartbreaking since the cumin-pickled squash I made a few weeks ago is THE MOST DELICIOUS THING EVER (along with pickled beets… they can share the title, right?).
20120711. State of the garden address.

And… our absolutely Swiss-cheesed green beans. This is the second year in a row they succumbed to some unseen pest long before I got anywhere near sick of green beans. Boo, bugs! Boo, I say.
20120711. State of the garden address.

Walking on Sunshine!
However, as per usual, the good things outweigh the bad by so very much. For instance, we have a perennial garden in front that attracts bees and birds and my own two eyes all the time.
20120706. Sunset sunlight.

We have a cat named Boombox, who I am convinced is the most awesome cat in the universe.
20120705. Stoic Boombox knows this (heat wave) too shall pass.

We have chickens who, diseased or not, are both gorgeous and friendly.They even get along with each other now, just a week and a half after first meeting.
20120706. Beaker, new gray Easter Egger, and the three wees.

We have dragonflies and tomatoes out the wazoo. I’m thinking there are so many dragonflies this year because we have been watering the garden on occasion through this drought (it hasn’t been this bad in 104 years, I was informed by the radio today) and because we keep a low water dish out amidst the perennials in front of the house. Bees, wasps, birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, and dragonflies love us this summer.
20120711. State of the garden address.

We also have the “three wees…”
20120706. Chris and the three wees.

And tomatoes like stoplights.
20120711. State of the garden address.

We also have an amazing way to eat up my proliferation of cucumbers: Adrienne’s Cucumber Salad. The cukes are finally coming back after the 100+-degree temps killed off most of their blooms. Also, sometimes you just have to pair your cucumber salad from the garden with square burgers from the freezer. It’s like when you have a nice steak, and all you’ve got on hand to pair it with is Carlo Rossi. Don’t judge.
20120711. Sometimes, you just have to pair that deilicous garden cuke salad with nasty square burgers.

Long live the cuke!
20120711. State of the garden address.

Finally, I’m super excited to pair edibles with our inedible landscaping. I ran out of room in the garden, and after pickling my first beets earlier this summer, I decided I needed moremoreMORE beets… and turnips, as long as I was at it. Here are the rings of turnips and beets on the front of the house.
20120711. State of the garden address.

How’s that for the most roller coaster-y, bipolar entry ever? It’s been a wild ride this summer, and I’m just holding on.