Friday, July 29, 2011

Oh Snap! Peas Please Me

One of the few benefits to a cool, wet summer is how great the cool weather crops grow. Okay, I'm inclined to say this is the only benefit to a cooler than normal summer. Nonetheless, if you love harvesting fresh peas, non-bitter or bolting lettuce and arugula into August, this has been your kind of summer in north Idaho.

The sugar snaps are fat, super sweet and best consumed right off the vine (most don't make it into the house).  For those that do, our second favorite is tossed in a salad of garden lettuce with goat's cheese or lightly sauteed in a little chicken stock. Yum! 

I just planted a third crop of lettuce, a spicy mesclun mix, along with more arugula.  Even if the dog-days of August arrive, these crops will be fine and will take us into the early fall. 

The cooler weather has the tomatoes a little smaller, but there are lots of greenies and I did manage to pick my first delicious, mini burst of summer delight, Sun Gold Cherry tomato the other day -- with lots more waiting in the wings for Mr. Sun to kiss upon.      

Monday, July 25, 2011

Flock Integration: So Happy Together

Over the weekend we moved our 16-week old pullets into the main coop with our two older hens.  I'm happy to report it was a great success with no bloodshed, no loss of feathers or any real discomfort for anyone (especially me).  Amazing.  I'm crediting this successful flock integration to the "meet and greets" and other factors mentioned previously. 

Combining flocks is something that all urban chicken farmers will have to face at some point if you want the eggs to continue.  It's a fact that younger hens produce more eggs than older hens. The most productive laying period is the first 18 months of the laying hen's life, after that, production tapers off.  

We've been fortunate that Madge, who is just over two years old, still produces an egg every day. Helen, who really is an old biddy at 3 and a half, is a little more sporadic in her laying.  She currently appears to be on vacation...again.  Can you say "Coq au vin?" The good news is that our pullets will start laying in just a few more weeks (laying usually begins between 20 and 24 weeks).  Maybe all that new activity in the nest will spur Helen back into action.

One last minute, secret weapon I pulled out to assist with the move-in was the Flock Block. The older girls love this salt-lick sized block of corn and molasses -- that is, after they get over the initial fear of it being in the coop.  They say "dumb cluck" for a reason!  

After we moved the pullets in the coop, I placed a fresh Flock Block in as a diversion tactic (often a head of cabbage or other special treat is recommended during integration).  Madge set out immediately in what can only be described as major hand-wringing worry...oh my...oh my...somethings different...oh my...what is that?...oh my.... Of course this translated to crowing loudly from the safety of the roost.  In the meantime, Helen took refuge in the back of the pen madly pacing back and forth. The pullets were oblivious to it all!  

Eventually, the youngsters began pecking at the block and of course the older girls jumped right in once they discovered it wasn't going to eat them! Nothing like a little corn and molasses to sweeten the move-in!   

I won't be able to actually test my integration theories until we do this again (in another 2 years), but I'd like to know how you have combined flocks or if the meet and greet idea has worked for you.  Let me know. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sweet 16

The 2nd Street Chicken Ranch is celebrating a Sweet 16 this weekend! Our "chicks" are 16 weeks today and will be moving to the main coop with Helen and Madge.  

After a month of informal "meet and greets" on the lawn, everyone is ready (well, ready or not) to live together.  There is no doubt in anyone's pea-sized brain as to who the ruler of the roost is: Madam Helen; and her Sargent-Major, Madge, makes darn certain that the underlings tow the line.  Such is the way of the pecking order.
Combining flocks is perhaps the most stressful event the urban chicken farmer and the flock will undertake.  I speak from experience. Given last summer's introduction of Madge, and the now departed, Midge, I hoped for a better way. 

The meet and greet concept worked really well for the current flock configuration and here is why:     

  • First and foremost it was neutral territory and not in anyone's coop.
  • We are introduced four young birds to two adults (unlike last summer's situation with two adult birds going in with five adult birds). While the youngsters tested the pecking order, they became subservient very quickly.
  • The older birds couldn't "attack" everyone at once (unlike last year's five against two). In fact, age may have mellowed the older girls -- there has been little blatant attacks on the youngsters. Usually just a glare or raised hackles is all it takes to clear the way for the older girls.
We'll do one more lawn party today and then everyone will retire to the main coop. We're not going the route of "combining flocks in the cloak of darkness;" which is a highly recommended method of introducing new chickens to existing flocks, simply because these girls have already mixed and mingled and have lived next to each other for the last 3 months.
The temporary condo coop in will stay put for a few more days, just in case a serious case of bullying breaks out and someone needs to go in "time-out."  
It is amazing how fast the last 4 months have gone by.  It seems like just yesterday we had four fuzzy, yellow chicks.  And just think, in another four short weeks, we should be getting our first eggs.  My, my how fast they grow up and leave the nest.    

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