Basil Discovers the Chickies

The baby chicks are being brooded in the grow room in the city.  Because of how packed with plants it gets in the spring  getting ready to plant the garden, Basil had been sternly taught that she wasn’t to go in there.  She thought we were crazy when we kept trying to coax her in to see the babies; the thought being that if she got to kind of bond with them as they grew, she wouldn’t want to make them puppy sized chicken nuggets.

Today was rainy and gross so we did indoor projects.  One of them was cleaning the brooder.  As these little birds grow, they have decidedly picked up their capacity to poop.  Basil couldn’t deal with it anymore and slowly did the “If they don’t see me maybe I can slowly sneak in and see what all the fuss is about” slinking move into the room.  At first she didn’t really know there was anything in the tub.  As we were cleaning the brooder, the food dispenser was out on the floor so she thought chick feed made a nice snack.  After being distracted she finally responded to the chirping noises and looked over the top of the tank.  The looks on her face were priceless.  She is a purebred retriever and those doggie instincts of hers wanted to “play” with those little squeak toys worse than anything.

We got a couple of them out to sniff and she was mesmerized by all of the energy in the brooder (thirty three chicks scurrying around in a tizzy after having treats thrown in to them).  We have begun the quest to “chickenize” the dog.  We have read stories about how dogs can become great guardians of the hens…. we’ll see.   In the meantime, she isn’t going to be going into the big coop with them any time soon.

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The Countdown To Coop Habitation

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The chicks are growing quickly into teenagers.  It is amazing how fast they grow.  We will post pictures later but they now have wings and the tails are coming in quickly.  They are kind of getting to the awkward stage.  They have downy fluff but at the same time they are getting real feathers.  I guess if these were humans they would also have zits.

Not only is the coop building and run finished, the nesting boxes, the waterer and the food dispenser are also in.  The windows all have shutters now so I can adjust the ventilation as needed.

In the spring they recommend that birds not be put out into the permanent coop until the 4th or 5th week; mostly because of the cold.  It is the end of July and they are now 2 weeks old and it is anything but cold.  We are going to be moving them out to the farm from the basement brooder the first weekend in August (about 8 days from now).  For one week they will live simply in the coop itself, not venturing outside.  It will be more like just a larger brooder with a bit more room to move around.  The next week we will program the automatic coop door and start to entice them out into the run.  They will be big enough to handle it and they will indeed, by that time, be about 5 weeks old.  I (Jon) will be able to be out there during that time so they won’t be left alone at all.  I can work from the farm so I am elected.

At that age it is important to keep an eye out as to who is a rooster and who is not.  I ordered 3 roosters, expecting there to be a fatality or two but so far we have had none.  My chicken bible says that having 1 rooster for every 12 to 20 birds is plenty so I wouldn’t think we would have more than 2.  The odd man out gets named Stew.  If you don’t separate them out they will start to fight and that can get kind of ugly…. if you are a guy, think of how you were around girls in high school…. same thing.

After finishing the coop and its furnishings I stood back and surveyed all of the creation.  All I can say is…… they better appreciate this Chicken Hilton, there is a piece of my ass in every part of it.  Now on to fencing in the garden and getting it ready for next spring!  More fence posts to dig!  Woohoo!!

Look Mom These Wings Work!

It only took a week and the chicks have their little wings!  They can’t fly yet but they can leap with great conviction.  High enough that we have had to cover the brooder just in case.  Just what we’d need, an escaped chicken convict being chased by two cats and a dog!

According to the chicken bible I have been using the second week is when they start getting their tail feathers.  As if on cue we got them a week ago tomorrow and the little buggers are sprouting tail feathers!

We have been keeping them busy turning over their litter on a daily basis.  If you give them dried meal worms they do something called food running.  Evidently chickens don’t or can’t eat something that isn’t small enough to be eaten in one peck.  If they find something like a worm, or even a piece of cooked spaghetti noodle, they will start tear ass-ing around the coop with all the others in hot pursuit.  The little chicks do this with the meal worm treats.  Just throw a small handful of them in to them and watch the games begin!  The ones who don’t get them immediately will commence to scratching the daylights out of the litter, thus turning it over and making it clean….. and we don’t have to do it!  Brilliant!

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The JAZ Farm Has Livestock!

I received a call at about 10:15 am today.  It was the Post Office.  I was informed that the chicks had arrived and were waiting for me to pick them up!  I was kind of shocked actually as the tracking number said that the delivery date was estimated to be two days from now.

I arrived at the Post Office and told the attendant that I was there to pick up probably the only box in the building that was cheeping!  She chuckled and went back into the back to look.  They were making so much of a racket that you could hear them when she was quite a ways back in the sorting room.  When she brought them out it was so funny to see the looks on the city folk’s faces.  One lady standing next to me must have just come in off of the tennis court.  She was wearing all the “proper” attire and just giggled when a noisy card-board box was set next to her, peeping away!

I had called Aaron from the road and he helped get all the necessary things set up and going.  Zina even took time from work to come and see the new children.  We are brooding them in our grow room.  Once they are a bit bigger they will go out into the garage and then on out to the farm coop (where I was today when I got the call!)

The brooder needs to stay at 95 degrees for the first few days.  Once they start feathering, the temperature can be reduced about 5 degrees at a time until it is no longer needed.

Upon arrival, the box is opened and inventory is checked.  The hatchery guarantees live delivery.  We lost one but I’m not going to make a claim.  They are only 3 dollars and it seems stupid to ask them to send me one bird when they had already thrown in a free “mystery” bird (which on my first take looks to be a Speckled Sussex – This makes sense to me because it, like the Orpingtons we ordered, are an English breed).

As the chicks are only a day and a half old upon arrival, they have never eaten nor had anything to drink.  The food needs to be out and sprinkled around.  The water solution is sugar with some electrolytes mixed in that were sent by the hatchery.  To get them in the pre-warmed brooder there are three things that need to be done:  1.  Check their little behinds to make sure they don’t have Pastey-Butt (just like it sounds, Poop caked over the bun-hole that doesn’t let them defecate) 2. Dip their beaks in the water and make sure they actually take a drink (kind of like a chicken swirly) and 3. Put their little heads in the food holder so they know where the food is.

They learn fast.  They are also thirsty and ravenous.  It didn’t take any time at all and they were scurrying around the brooder.  If you tap your finger on the floor of the brooder they will come running over as they think you are another chick pecking at something fun. Then they start to do it too!

They can sleep virtually anywhere!  We had one fall asleep next to the waterer still standing up.  They run around like crazy and peck and do the little chickie dance things they do. Then all of a sudden, wham, they lay down and take a nap.  You have to be very patient with this because some of them look like they have fallen over and died.  Then, just as quickly as they fell asleep, they are up eating watering, pooping in their food and running around again…. insanely cute.

Aaron and Zina named the mystery bird, Sorpresa, which I guess in Spanish means Surprise.  I could only come up with a couple of other names: Omelette, Lunch, Dinner, and Fajita, Stew, Soup, Shish and Kabob.  Will have to work on it I guess.

They are much more alert after a few hours after what must have been a freakish ride on a Postal Service semi.  The temperature seems to be to their liking and they are settling in nicely.

The first JAZ Farm non-pet livestock are at hand!  Now its up to the farmers to see if we can keep them alive!

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JUGS 1: The Astro-Nuts Christen the Observing Field

This past weekend was our first “formal” star party at the farm.  It was about a 50% success.  Mexico had a storm that decided to send us some very hot, muggy and rainy weather.  As a result, the skies were marginal on Friday and non-existent on Saturday.  On Friday night I had Zina’s binoculars out, there was another set of binoculars and another friend brought his Celestron C-11 scope.  He being the more optimistic of the bunch, actually set up.  I left my big scope in the basement, as I didn’t want to haul that beast around if it rained.  The same held true for Bill’s big binos.

The skies on Friday were so-so.  We were able to see some objects and of course mooched off of Mike to look through his 11 inch scope when there was anything un-obscured.

The fences are working fabulously.  One of my Astro-nut buddies said that I have created an observing “Mecca” on the high plains of Colorado…. coming from a very well experienced astronomer, I consider that quite a complement.

We ate well, solved all the world’s problems, laughed, watched movies, and……. a bunch of 50 something kids drove around on the JAZ Farm tractor.  It was hilarious to watch.  I also now likely have some future farm hands and egg purchasers to boot.

This was a lot of fun.  It wasn’t a perfect observing weekend (they rarely ever are) but they are my favorite company which makes even a downpour a good time.

Here is the observing field in stand by mode:




Here are the Astro-Nuts playing with farm toys:

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This Is Something You Don’t See Everyday….

The news today posted a video of what they said was a farmer trying to put out a wild fire on his HAY field.  I pasted the You Tube link below.  First of all it AIN’T HAY!!  Its WHEAT.  Second, That is a brave and resourceful farmer.  As you will see in the last part of the video, it worked!  Third, This is only about 20 minutes NW of US!  We are either dry as a bone and this happens or we have hail and thunderstorms with Tornados like we did last night.  So much for “normalcy”  Good thinking Mr. Wheat Farmer!



Changing Construction Directions

After months of seemingly doing nothing but planning and building the coop, it seems odd that most of that work is completed.  We have wasted no time putting it to use.  We have ordered our first little flock of chicks.  Murray McMurray hatchery will be delivering 34 day old chicks Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.  I watched a video of how they are delivered.  Very ingenious.  They come priority mail and the post office calls you and lets you know when they arrive.  The boxes they use to ship them are designed for maximum airflow.  The interiors are adjustable so the birds are either closer together in the winter or farther apart in the summer to adjust for body heat.  I guess, because they still have some of the yolk left, that the trip doesn’t bother them.  They have enough food and are hydrated enough to make the quick trip.  Once they arrive, you do have to teach them how to eat and drink.  Each little fuzz ball has to have its beak dipped into the water.  You have to make sure you see them drink otherwise they won’t know how and will die of dehydration.  Once they have discovered drinking, you have to do the same with their food.

We ordered 3 roosters and 30 hens.  The hatchery is sending us a bonus “mystery” bird.  It will be fun to see what it is.

Once they arrive they need constant attention for the first month.  We set up a brooder consisting of a galvanized water tank, heater, feeders and waterers in our city grow room in the basement.  With Aaron around before college through August, we will be able to have tag team chick-sitting throughout the process.  Once they are about a month old they will go out to the farm coop.

I will post pictures of the whole set up next week once it is populated.

With the coop finished, my thoughts switched almost immediately to the garden.  I have figured out the fencing configuration which, of course, means more post holes!  My poor back.  I had a forced hiatus with respect to the post hole digging because while digging the trench around the coop I burst the pressurized hose on the power washer.  Waiting for a replacement.  I will never dig another hole out there without it!

I am thinking that I will be attaching the perimeter fence of the garden to the coop itself.  That way, in the spring and fall when I want the chickens to go out and peck and forage in the garden all I have to do is open the coop gate and let them out.

I had some initial concerns about how much water is available to me with my well.  Not that it can’ t handle it, but what my rights are.  I looked up the paperwork on the well and it turns out that if I ran the well pump 24/7, it couldn’t pump the amount of water I am allowed annually.  Evidently it is 2.5 acre feet per year.  That equates to some 815,000 gallons per year.  My pump produces 10 gallon per minute.  Do the math.  Water concerns alleviated.  I hope to get the drip tapes strung yet this summer so I can get cover crops planted.  The soil needs to be doctored and that would be a great first step.

We have been in another drought this summer.  As a result,  it appears that our farmer land leaser has abandoned his wheat project.  The USDA office said that there have been a couple of other folks looking for him too and he seems to be in absentia.  That is kind of disconcerting because he plowed up the property and the bare soil has been sitting there.  As it gets dried out, it blows away pretty easily.  The only thing growing at this point is a very healthy and vibrant crop of bindweed.  If you’ve ever had to deal with that invasive stuff……   We are thinking we won’t be attempting that again.  I have learned enough about growing wheat, corn and sunflowers for personal use that I don’t see the reason for it.  We are messing with the idea of restoring the vegetation to the back 30 and make it available to the myriad birds, antelope, foxes, rabbits and other wildlife we have seen out there.  I have been driving the tractor around the perimeter of the farm to mash down the ground again where the plow dug it up so we can resume our daily walks around the farm for exercise and dog running.

I am investigating the procedures involved with having someone coming in and seed drill hay grass into the front 10 acres.  That will hold in the soil and give me hay and feed for chickens and future critters.

So after JUGS this weekend, the babies arrive.  Once that happens, we will be doing activities via hand off of chick sitting tasks.  I will have some time to let my body heal from the months of construction work, pay some attention to the back yard garden, and plan out the next evolution…. the production of food.

So up to this point we are all very proud of the accomplishments.  We are on the verge of a new change of lifestyle with the responsibility of livestock, and in a few short weeks, a kid going off to experience the world of college.

What A Long Strange Trip Its Been

Completed The Heavy Reinforcements

It has been a fabulous week out here.  Taking some time to be out away from everyone and everything has been the most relaxed I’ve been in literally years.  We were able to enjoy some navel gazing time as well as getting most of the astro-fence treated with deck sealant and getting ready for our first “star party” the weekend of the 13th (the long term forecast predicts thunderstorms…. figures).  The wheat harvest out here is in full force.  It is amazing to watch those machines. They have it down to quite a science with some of the combines actually being guided via GPS.

The most tedious and heavy work involved with the chicken coop is reinforcing it so that animals like coyotes can’t dig under the fence or barn and feast on my future eggs and stew.  Over the past week I dug an 8 inch deep trench around the outside of the fence and the building and poured over 4500 lbs of concrete into it.  The building itself had a corner that didn’t meet the ground squarely and could have easily been burrowed under.  On that corner I also put in 4x8x16 cinderblocks.  They are all re-barred into the cement in the ground.  I am pretty sure that this thing is now a right impenetrable chicken prison!

I also spent one day building and rigging the roosts. Zina painted them.  For the Chicken impaired, chickens like to sleep up off the ground.  They will seek the highest place in the coop with the dominant hens taking the prime positions.  The pecking order determines who gets to sleep where.  For heavier breeds it is recommended to provide 10 inches of roost space per bird.  This set up will more than suffice.

We are ordering our first baby chicks in about a week.  They should all be arriving sometime the week of the 15th.  Then life is certainly going to change!