Monthly Archives: August 2012

Pressure Canner

I’m so excited! I’m finally taking the plunge and purchasing my genuine All American Pressure Canner, made right here in the good ole’ US of A by Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry, since 1930 no less. All reviews for this canner are totally stellar, and some folks have original versions they still use from the 30’s! That’s pretty impressive if you ask me.

Pressure canners are great for preserving low-acid veggies like green beans as well as various cuts of meat. I plan to start with veggies then try out the meats. I’ll let you all know how it goes!

Here she is, model 921 with a 21-quart capacity:

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Chickens Sneeze?!

Here’s the first bump in the road of my chicken adventure. Within the first couple of weeks of having the hens, one started sneezing. Yes, sneezing! I suppose it makes sense, I suppose all critters sneeze, but a chicken sneezing just seemed strange. The gal at our local feed store (a different feed store than the one we bought the hens from), we’ll call her Lori, is a chicken pro and suggested we give all the hens an antibiotic because poultry illnesses can be very contagious, thus we gave the girls a water-soluble antibiotic for a week. They weren’t laying yet which was good since you can’t eat the eggs when they are on the meds, and when they are off the meds you have to wait weeks or a month before you can eat them. Lo and behold, we got our first egg just days after we started dosing their water. Naturally. Then another started to lay the next day, and then we had three laying then all did except for our Ancona. Aside: for a while we thought she was a rooster since it took her months to finally start laying, and since she has an insanely large comb. See what I mean? Update 10/3/12: her comb is STILL growing. It’s even bigger now, and it gets purplish on the tips because the blood can’t get all the way up there! Haha! Kinda funny.

After we completed the antibiotic cycle, the sick hen seemed to get better then she regressed a week or two later with the same symptoms. We took her to the vet this time and ended up having to give her antibiotics orally (??!?!) for a week. Ever given a chicken a pill? They REALLY don’t like it. Again, there was slight improvement then she regressed. Lori said the sneezing could just be a habit now so we quit worrying. She was laying, eating and drinking so we figured she must be fine. Then one day, about two months after the whole thing started, she came stumbling out of the coop, dragging a wing and foot so we thought she had a stroke (can chickens have strokes??). Lori broke the news to us that the hen would only get worse with her condition leading to full paralysis. After some discussion and additional research, we decided the best thing to do would be to put her down. Everyone agreed that the quickest, most humane option was to break her neck, so that’s what we did. My husband being the stellar guy he is took care of it despite my offer to help (I really didn’t want to). I’m okay with that being “the man’s job.” So that was our first trauma. A bit hard to take, but since we plan to have chickens for many years to come, we figured it was something we would have to get used to.

The moral of the story is: be sure, absolutely certain, that when you purchase chicks they are from a reputable hatchery/feed store, and have been given all the recommended vaccinations (they are usually listed in the hatchery catalog). Of course, our sick hen’s condition could have been genetic but we’ll never know. It’s best to take as many precautions as possible, especially if you are introducing new hens/pullets into your existing flock.

What happened next? Chicken mites. I already posted about that; see below.

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Backtrack: How I Started my Chicken Adventure

My main motivation was to be a bit more self-sufficient and to have eggs raised by hens the way I thought they should be raised. Eggs are such a perfect source of food that I thought we could add to our food security beyond the garden beds by having a backyard source, and so the adventure began in December 2011. First we ordered a really cute coop (don’t ever buy a coop because it’s “cute”*). Once it was delivered, we built a coop run around it so that the girls could scratch around during the day unmolested by the neighborhood hawks. Once everything was built, we brought home eight four-month old girls from a local feed store on New Year’s Eve of 2011. My husband had promised I’d have my girls by the end of the year and we just made it!

Thus began our chicken adventure. To date I’ve only been at this chicken thing for 7 ½ months, never had chickens before, and as you’ll see I’ve been through a lot with the girls. I will be sharing much about my chicken adventures in this blog as I’ve had such a hard time finding certain info that I wanted to share my experiences, successes and failures in order to hopefully help others. I’m trying to post my experiences in chronological order so you can really feel my pain—I mean, read what I’ve been through and how you can get through it, too, so I’m a bit out of order now. Mites came after we had to put one hen out of her misery. I really do love my girls, but I will admit they are much more work (and sometimes trouble!) than I thought they would be. So read on, fellow backyard farmers and homesteading enthusiasts!

*The cute coop conundrum: looking back now, I should have bought a large, tall coop, something I could stand in and walk into with a normal door. It would be so much easier to clean, and if you have a bad back (like me) the cute coop can be a real pain. Alas, it was a newbie mistake not to be repeated. Pics FINALLY posted below.

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Creepy Crawlies in the Coop!

“What the…???” A few months ago, I went to collect the eggs out of our coop and was horrified to find extraordinarily small, almost microscopic bugs, crawling all over the eggs in the nesting box. “What in the frickity frack are THOSE!?” I shouted to my husband, wondering what could now be going wrong with our backyard chicken project. We had only been raising chickens for four months at this point and already had to deal with a myriad of issues, including culling one of our hens due to a persistent respiratory infection that refused to abate.

Back to the creepy-crawlies. These things are tiny tiny tiny, and it’s almost impossible to find any decent info on them. After doing much worrying, and much research, I diagnosed the critters as chicken mites. Ew. These buggers hide out during the day in the cracks and crevices in the coop then feast on the chickens at night, little vampires sucking their blood. Swell. They can eventually kill hens if left untreated. One of our hens refused to budge from the nesting box so I checked her hind end and there they were, many of the ruthless mites all over her, crawling on her skin, near her vent, it was awful. Her vent was all crusty and she was missing a bunch of feathers. I felt like a terrible parent for not noticing sooner.

Anyhoo: after finding the critters on our hens, it was late, I figured I would have to do a serious coop cleaning the next day. All bedding out, removed it and placed it far away, scrubbed coop with soapy, slightly bleachy solution, and figured a generous application of FOOD GRADE diatomaceous earth (DE) would do it, or so I had been told by the limited info I could find. Long story short, it didn’t work. I gave it about a week, but the darn mites were still there. Egads, now what do I do??

Head to the feed store, buy huge bag o’ pine shavings (kiln dried is very important!), a fresh bag of FOOD GRADE DE (I’ll explain why), Poultry Protector (a natural pest spray), and permethrin. No, I didn’t want to use any sort of pesticide but at this point I’m thinking if I don’t all my chickens will die and I’ve just started selling eggs to co-workers. I can’t lose my business, even if it’s currently only two dozen a week!

Why a fresh bag of FOOD GRADE DE? In my research I had discovered that if DE gets wet, it becomes useless. I had an “ah ha!” moment. Everything I had read indicated that DE does the trick when it comes to mites and other pests. Perhaps my DE had been wet at some point (it had) and that’s why it was no longer effective. Why do I keep capitalizing FOOD GRADE? Because that’s the type you need to use around your chickens. There are two types of DE, food grade and non-food grade. The non can be toxic, so stick to the FOOD GRADE. Go to any feed store, they should have it. I digress…

Oh–and wear a dust mask and safety glasses/goggles when applying DE, and don’t get it in your chickens’ eyes or around their beaks. I digress again…

So back to the coop I go for Round Two of thorough cleaning. This time I applied the Poultry Protector diluted spray after the bleach solution had dried. Then I sprinkled a little permethrin in the cracks and crevices in the coop, lots of FOOD GRADE DE all over, in every nook and cranny, a very thick layer. Then came the pine shavings, another sprinkle of DE, and I was done. Later that night, we applied DE to all the hens and I even applied a little permethrin to the vent area of the infested hen. I gave it another week and it had worked to an extent. We continued to dust the coop and hens for a few weeks, every few days. I also removed the majority of the poop each day and applied a little fresh pine shavings after dusting the coop with DE. It took a few weeks, but we ended up ridding the hens and coop of the mites. When using a natural method of pest control, you have to be diligent and give it time. I would discourage my fellow homesteaders from using pesticides because 1) they can be toxic, and 2) pests can build up a resistance to what you’re using. We only dusted with the small amount of permethrin once. Just remember when using DE to control mites you have to be patient and diligent. It really does work! Hopefully there’s not a next time, but should there be we will skip the permethrin and use it only as a last resort.

Categories: Chickens | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Mouse in the House?

May 21, 2012: As I’m trying to cook dinner, I’m having a hard time getting to the stovetop. Our two cats are positioned at the base of the range and won’t budge. I shoo them away several times to no avail. It’s like they are waiting for something to emerge, something like…prey. “Oh, boy,” I think. A mouse in the house, perhaps? No, it couldn’t be! I’m a decent housekeeper despite the fact I work full-time away from home. Surely a mouse in the house must mean I’m a lackluster homemaker, failing in my duties. I negotiate around them and finish making dinner, after which I don’t give the obsessed felines much thought. A few hours later, time to turn in for the night.

Morning light breaks through the windows six hours later. Two sets of dog paws on the bed confirm it’s time to get up, get the day going. Let the dogs out, head to the shower, after that to the kitchen. Why is the kitchen rug turned up and over on one corner? Darn cats must have been playing pretty hard during the night. [Aside: We keep them out of the bedroom at night so that we can get a decent night’s sleep. Yes, we felt guilty for a week or two when we decided that, but after a few nights of excellent sleep (with dogs at the base of the bed on their own pillows) we got over it.]

Back to the turned up rug in the kitchen.

Why is that rug folded over on one corner? Silly cats. Head to rug, unfold corner and GASP–turns out the cats had wrapped a present for me, said present being a dead mouse. Now, I used to work at a farm so seeing dead rodents is less than horrifying for me, but when you encounter one INSIDE your own home that’s a whole other story. Thoughts raced through my mind. I really was a horrible homemaker! “Our house must be filthy! Unkempt! Oh, the horror!” Then I begin thinking further into this. “Well, we do live in a semi-rural area, with an olive tree orchard across the street and just a few houses around us. But how did the mouse get in?” Really? “It’s a mouse, get over it.” So I praised the cats for the gift and their hunting prowess, showed my husband our present, and tossed it into the olive tree orchard. “Oh, no! What if it had a bazillion babies whilst under the range?!” Well, the cats will probably take care of them, too. Sound harsh? It’s just reality, and that’s what you need to face when living in the (semi) country.

Categories: Misc. Adventures | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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