A Spring Day in the Middle of Winter

It is still winter in Montana and will be at our house for months to come.   We have had some serious early thaws  recently as we will here every year about this time.   Today it had melted enough of the snow away that it was a perfect day to open the chicken run and let the ladies out today for some free-range time.

2017-02-19-2017-02-19-001-022-1280x853Though it doesn’t look like much the chickens were out there eating the shoots of new grass that the melted snow provided.  My chickens  can be an industriousness bunch when it comes to good fresh food after the snow hiding “good eats” and being on commercial chow for a few months.

Let’s hold onto the memory of this day with sunshine and blue skies as  we enter a week that is suppose to be full of show again.  The snow is happening less frequently and days like this are happening more often.   There is hope for spring, no matter how far away.

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Here Comes the Next Season

Today we were under a red flag warning.    What that means is that conditions are right that a wildland fire if started could go wild and easily grow.   Today the air is super dry, my phone says the humidity is 13% and the winds are blowing a steady 21 mph in town.   The temperature here at the house is 84 degrees in the shade and the winds here are surely as strong as they are in town.   Yes I am from the Midwest and know that 84 isn’t hot at all, but at our place in Montana it is darn hot.

We are starting to enter fire season around here.   The Red Flag warning is a sign of the coming of the end of summer.    Our grasses are all cured and getting drier by the day.   The hottest days of the year should be just around the corner.   I can’t remember the last time we had any moisture, but we have dry lightening at least a couple times a week. That is how many of the local wildland fires start.    RangerSir had spent the last week trimming down grasses around the house and outbuildings because it is the time of the year you do that type of thing if you live here.   We had a large grass fire between our house and town last week.   If something gets started out here it should burn hot and fast through our property, but we should be ok.   There is always the factor of what are the odds of should really means.   So you do all that you can do to improve your odds.

I went out today to try and photograph rooster boy thinking I would get some good photos and would blog about the chickens.   The weather was not cooperating. He is a handsome blue rooster, instead here with the wind at his back  he looks like he is having a terrible hair day.   Oh well what is a little wind now that we are in fire season.

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Surprise

When you buy chicks, most folks buy them sexed, for a whole host of reasons.   Many folks can not have roosters in the city.   Even if you can have roosters, too many are problems because of too much testosterone.I have heard many a story of a nice or good rooster.   The only roosters I have had have been hard on the hens, and wanting to attack us and our dog. I would prefer not to have the hassle of roosters.      For this reason I generally buy sexed, female chicks.   Sexing is somewhere between 80-90% accurate.   Even in the best case scenario you will sooner or later get a rooster or two.   This year the jury is not in but we think we got two out of six.

So if getting  a couple of roosters was not a big enough surprise, I also got an unexpected breed.   Instead of getting two Blue Laced Red Wyandottes we got two Blue Andalusian.  That was the bigger surprise.   I had never seen or heard of them before.   I picked up my chicks when the regular chick lady was gone at the ranch supply.   I thought the blue  chicks they packaged up weren’t right. Wyandottes have a tendency to be mottled or chipmunk marked.   My blue chicks were solid blue.   Because the RLRW are somewhat rare, I did not question the staff, but assumed that my limited experience with these breed was the reason for the difference.   The store was a couple of hours from the house, so at that point what was I to do, it was what it was.

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This is the male.   He is a handsome fella, though they sport a single comb, something I stay away from due to the harsh climate here. So far he is a pretty pleasant fella.   I’d like to hold on to him for awhile and see how he turns out.

 

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Here is the female.   She was a lot more cooperative when trying to photograph her.  They are eight weeks old right now.   They are a pretty amazing blue color.   What a fun surprise.

Moving Day

Sunday was  the day the littles (this year’s chicks) movec from the brooder in the garage out to a larger brooder area in the coop with the bigs (our existing flock).  .   We started the littles  under the lights in a dog crate in the garage where we have fewer temperature fluctuations.  The big drawback is even with the heat lamp and the overhead lights on, they get almost no sunshine.   There is no scientific data, but  I think that slows their development.   Several times we have thought about moving them out to the coop but the last couple of weeks have been snowy and cold so we passed as much for ourselves as them. This week’s forecast is much better so we are moving them out of the garage.

RangerSir got the set up ready for them.It takes some set up time to get a warm safe, draft free space set up for them in the coop.  They need to be protected from the bigs. We have been doing this now for awhile  and know the routine.    It is a combination of a dog exercise pen, a dog crate, heat lamps, chicken wire top, and some kind of draft protection (this year plywood, some years it is cardboard.) This set up will do for the next stage of their life.

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I Did Get Chicks

I am not sure where the time went since I last posted.   I finished up technical job that took more effort than I planned but was also more fun than I imagined.   It had a hard deadline and so my focus was pretty narrow.    I have now run the job back to employer, and I am done with that job.   I don’t have another one right now so and I am catching up on some things that got put aside one of them my blog.

Excuses given my major news is that I did get chicks this week. RangerSir and I agreed that we bring in a few every year and this year did not have a good reason for not doing so.    I got all Wyandottes, one of my favorite breeds.  I love them because they lay well, they come in assorted colors and designs, when they are done laying they can be sent to freezer camp, and they have a cushion comb which is really nice during a Montana Winter.   I only got six, which is our optimum flock size.    I got two blue laced reds, two golden laced, and to silver laced.   Right now they are in a brooder under the lights in the garage.

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Right now they are in the brooder under the red heat lamps.

This is the first time they have not spent the first two or three weeks in a brooder in the house, but enough is enough.   We are finding it more of a challenge than we had figured on to keep them warm and keep them confined.   This two will pass and each week will get better.

 

New Chicks – the Jury is Still Out

We have been debating on and off about getting chicks this year. There are so many reasons to do and just as many reasons to sit out a year.   We are approaching the end of chick days, so if we don’t buy some soon, then the decision will soon be out of our hands.

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A sign of the times…Chick Days.

One of the reasons we need to consider new birds is predators.   Last year we lost a number of hens to a fox.  We have not lost to predators every year, but it is always a possibility.    We could not take that same kind of predation again this year.   We have already seen a large fox this year. Our hens already are not doing as much free ranging as they would like because of this.   We are keeping them in the run more hours and close to the house when they are free ranging.   It is not a guarantee that they will not meet an unfortunate demise, but it does decrease the odds of them being fox dinner.

Another reason for thinking about adding some youngsters to our flock is some of our hens are past peak laying and if we don’t retire them to freezer camp this year, they will only be good for stock.   I hate to be wasteful.   It seems to me that is almost disrespectful to not fully utilize the bird.   When they get beyond tough it settles wrong with me, it seems that I have been less than a good steward. You want to rotate out your heavy laying hens every 18-24 months if you hope to eat them.

One of the reasons to not get chicks is we would get to put off one of the worst parts of backyard chicken wrangling, butchering.  I would so love to put them in a cage haul them off to be butchered and come back neat little hens in a plastic bag, but it doesn’t work that way.   It one of those things that is a reminder to me of the hard work that goes into putting food on our table.

Another reason to not get chicks is I just plain old don’t like the part of raising baby chicks.   They are sensitive to cold, drafts and require lots of work to get them to the laying age.   Some people love this part, to me it is just one big hassle, I’d rather skip. There is a period where we are running two separate flocks and two separate sets of chores for each of them.

The local ranch supply will be getting birds in only for a couple more weeks, so we will soon be making the road trip to get some chicks or by procrastination the decision will be made for us.  Either way is ok with us this year.

Signs of Spring

This week there was the hint of spring in the air here in southwestern Montana.  We opened the gate on our chicken run and let the hens have a little free range time.   They were excited and ready to run free.     They are looking for the little bits of green that are starting to show up.

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We still have some snow on the ground but they can work their way around it. We pulled out some straw from the coop and spread it around on the ground which is still quite muddy, to help their human caretakers not track so much around and beat what little grass we have down.

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The hens thought that we were tossing the straw about to make it easier to find tasty morsels. We had to do a double take and recount the hens, because all the feathers from the molting they did this winter looked like a fox had been in the hen house.   Fortunately it was a false alarm.

We are all ready for a little spring weather here.   Everyone is tired of being cooped up.