Our First Grand Chick

This past Sunday, Sally and I became grandparents – in a manner of speaking.  Our favorite hen, Chicken Little, hatched the first of what we were hoping would be a whole litter of baby chickens.  We started out with five fertilized eggs that we picked up from our friends at Yonder Way Farms in Fayeteville, Texas.   However, one precious little chick is all we got.


Our precious little chick on the day she was hatched.

And that is just fine with us.  We really don’t need a lot of chickens at our house.  Our coop is not set up for more than six to eight birds.  In fact, this is why we waited so long to let one of our hens sit.  We didn’t want a crowded coop.

Sally and I decided to let Chicken Little sit for a couple of reasons.  First, she is the hen at the bottom of the pecking order.  It is hard for us to watch the constant pecking and pushing around that she is forced to endure.  We read on a blog that a batch of chicks had a way of bringing out the mother in all of the hens.  So, we are hoping that this little chick will make the other girls treat Chicken Little a whole lot better.  At the very least we are hoping it will prevent, or at least delay, the bad treatment that Chicken Little is forced to endure.


Our baby is four days old and already getting pin feathers on her wings!

While Sally and I think Chicken Little is the sweetest, bestest hen of the bunch, she does have one little problem – she gets broody – A LOT.  In the past few months she has become broody four different times.  Each time this happened we were forced to quarantine her in a metal cage for a few days.  During that time she didn’t eat or drink much.  Plus it was just hard for us to watch.  So, since she is such a good girl –and she REALLY wanted to sit – we decided to let her.


Chicken Little is such a good mother! Here, she and baby explore their world.

While we had hoped for a few more chicks, we are absolutely thrilled with our one little baby.  She truly is precious and Chicken Little is proving to be a great little mother.  Plus, the other hens really do seem to be impressed (and they are treating her a little better).  They keep coming up and looking at the baby.  When they get too close Chicken Little blows up her feathers and clucks and they politely walk off.  I truly hope that that this new baby raises her mom’s standing in the flock!

BTW, this post has been shared on The HomeAcre Hop and the Homestead Barn Hop #173.  Be sure to check them out.  They are full of great posts from homesteaders across the web.

Chicken Update

5-12-2013 11-28-29 AM I am amazed at how much progress both our chickens and the coop have over the past two weeks.  Before Sally and I got our babies we read “Chick Days – Raising Chickens From Hatchlings to Laying Hens” by Jenna Woginrich.  This book was amazingly well written.  In it she stresses how quickly the little birds grow.  However, until you see it in person, you really can’t appreciate how quickly they mature.  In the past two weeks the birds have gone from fuzzy little babies to aggressive, active fledglings that are beginning to try to fly and already establishing a pecking order.  They have also learned to come when I call them (as long as I allow them to eat dehydrated meal worms out of my hand).

Chris is helping the girls adjust to the great outdoors.

Chris is helping the girls adjust to the great outdoors.

By the end of week one they had the beginnings of wing and tail feathers.  Now their wings and tails are very developed and all of that down is beginning to fall out.  Yesterday, since the girls are getting so big, we took them outside for the first time.  It is truly amazing to me that they do not need to be taught anything.  While they were a little nervous at first, they quickly began to happily scratch and eat all manner of weeds and grasses.  All in all I think it was a great start for them.

Chris's dog Ed wants to play with the girls too

Chris’s dog Ed wants to play with the girls too

Since they are growing so quickly, the coop has needed to progress just as quickly.  Luckily, it has.  I have been very lucky to have the help of our son Chris for the past couple of weekends.  Last weekend, we set the posts and started the framing.  This weekend, I paid a friend to come and add the roof and do the plumbing and electrical.  Here are some shots of our progress:

Last weekend's progress

Last weekend’s progress

Eventhough it rained on Friday, my buddy Ruben was still able to get the roof frame on the coop


Here you can see the the triangular topped door that is going to be very cute with the diamond shaped window that will go in it

Here you can see the the triangular topped door that is going to be very cute with the diamond shaped window that will go in it

5-12-2013 11-57-18 AM


Gardening With Chickens

Based on all of the press I see, I am convinced that almost everyone in America is either raising chickens or gardening.  Notice I said “either”.  While both activities are a ton of fun, they are very difficult to do together.  You see, chickens will eat anything and everything; especially fresh produce.  Because of this, most people that have both chickens and gardens do everything possible to keep the chickens far, far away from their plants.

Carol and Andy KMetz in front of their root cellar. This cellar was a labor of love given to Andy by his son for Father’s Day. Note to my own children: THIS WAS A VERY GOOD GIFT!!!!!

I recently met a couple that has overcome this problem.  They have created a way to combine their love of chickens and their love of gardening in a way that is equally beneficial to the plants, the animals and the people.  I was so impressed by this very simple and ingenious method that I had to share it.

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to moat on the other side!

Andy and Carol Kmetz of Sapulpa, Ok are avid gardeners that have developed a unique way to use their chickens to improve their garden and their gardening experience.  Andy grows vegetables and berries in a 60’X40’ garden that is enclosed by two fences.  The second (or outer) fence is an incredibly brilliant idea that allows him to use his chickens as a natural pest barrier, weed barrier and garden waste disposal system.  This second fence creates a 6’ border (or run) around the outside of his garden.  This run is connected to his chicken coop by an underground tunnel he calls a moat.  This buffer space between the plants and the chickens is beneficial to both he and his hens.  The chickens patrol this area and eat any insect that dares to try and move through it. They also eat all of the weeds that try to pop up.  This creates a very effective barrier that keeps weeds from encroaching from the perimeter of the garden.   In addition, as Andy works in the garden, he can quickly and easily dispose of weeds and over ripe produce by throwing it over the fence to the hungry chickens that will literally eat anything that hits the ground.

The girls enter the trench that connects their coop with the vegetable garden on the other side.

This moat idea took a while to get just right.  Initially, Andy dug a trench and placed a concrete conduit in it.  The chickens didn’t like it.  Turns out chickens are “chicken” of the dark (why is that when I write about chickens I am compelled to use bad chicken puns).  When he discovered this he dug another trench, walled it up with two deep cross-ties and covered it with heavy gauge welded wire.  This open topped design was all the chickens needed to make them “cross the road”.

The girls are in the moat. Note how the edge of the fence by the garden is almost devoid of vegetation

Andy’s chickens aren’t the only thing special about his garden.  Each year, Andy grows tons of produce on plants that are so healthy they look like they were grown in a greenhouse.  His skill as a gardener surpasses his families ability to consume and Carol’s ability to can.  So, each year he and Carol distribute the fruits of their labor to their friends and those in need.  Andy achieves these results through a combination of diligence and organic growing methods.  He credits his success to three things:  a very special compost, mulch and drip irrigation.  Every year, before he plants anything, Andy feeds his soil with a humate mixture that that he gets from Humalfa.  This compost is made from feed lot waste and blended with composted alfalfa to create a very nutrient dense mixture that is great for the vegetable garden.  Andy is so in love with this stuff that he makes a 500 mile round trip every spring so he can buy this product in bulk directly from the manufacturer.

After Andy feeds his soil, he makes sure that all of his plants are serviced by his drip irrigation system.  Once the plants are up he mulches them with grass clippings and pine needles that he gathers from his yard.  His efforts do two things; conserve moisture and they extend his growing season.   Andy has gardened in this plot for many years.  Before the mulch and drip system went in, his garden was done each year by July 4.  Now, his deep mulch and drip system extends his garden production well into August.

Andy and Carol were excellent hosts and kindred spirits.  My only regret is that we didn’t have more time to spend with them.  In my opinion, their chicken moat borders on genius.  It is a simple solution to a problem that vexes many gardeners across the world.  I am so thankful that they allowed us to learn from their experience.  I was so impressed by the chicken moat that I am willing to bet, it won’t be too long until I get to write a post about one at my house!  Many thanks to both Carol and Andy for taking the time to teach this old gardener a few new tricks!

This post has been shared on the Homestead Barn Hop and the HomeAcre Hop.  These Hops are a source of great information from some of the top homesteaders and gardeners across the web.  Check them out!