Week 6 was full of sunshine and dustbaths. This week, the story was the weather. Wet, windy, cold, windy weather.
Constant wind can be exhausting. Add low temperatures, and it’s extra work to keep spring chicks, bees, and young trees and plants safe.
It was a long week on the homestead. However, it did show us how hardy the chicks are becoming. We see a light at the end of the chick-brooding tunnel. They’ll be ready for outdoor living soon, and we’ll be ready for warmer weather.
Today was wicked windy again, and chilly. The day started with rain and an epic drive with 20,000 bees.
Yes. It was our first “bee day.” The rain stopped as I pulled back in at home. The wind didn’t. When the new colonies were safely cinched next to their respective hive boxes to breathe before being shifted to their new hives (as soon as we could find a break in the wind), I shuttled the chicks to the tractor.
Chickens and bees! Finally. So much work preceded this photo, and not just to prepare for the new livestock. This bucolic fruit orchard used to be a kudzu field.
Social distancing has given us precious time to learn about our new quaranteam members, who will hopefully all get along. BeBe did try to peck a bee off a flower but missed.
Chickens and bees live peacefully with each other. Other flying neighbors aren’t as easy to get along with. The hawk family has been out in force. They always are this time of year. Last year, as we worked to finish barnbungalow, 2-3 hawks screeched overhead all the time. I thought it was cooler back then.
The chicks don’t always see the hawks hovering, which worries me. Meanwhile, a butterfly sends them flap-running back to the tractor.
So will one of these. Airplanes are so rare right now they startle us, too.
On the list of things they don’t seem to mind is wind, which is good because 20mph gusts are the norm on days like this.
Cold weather doesn’t seem to bother them, either, though I have anxiety about them getting cold. When I went to take them in this evening, it was in the low 60s, the chilliest they’ve been in. My over-active brain wasn’t sure I’d done the right thing, especially when all the chicks except BeBe ran to chick chariot for oats.
BeBe is the smallest and a Langshan. Compared to the Brahmas, the Langshans have taken longer to grow feathers to keep them warm. Their heads aren’t feathered yet.
Eventually BeBe walked up to peck oats in my hand, but instead of joining the other chicks in the crate, she went back to the tractor. Was she chilly? She wasn’t puffed up, but why wouldn’t she want oats?
Back in the study, I closed them in the bin right away because I was ready for bed after the 5:30 wake-up for an adrenaline-filled bee day. I figured they needed to warm up anyway, and the smaller quarters in the bin are good for that. I held little BeBe next to the heater for a minute for good measure. She did not seem displeased. BeBe enjoys attention.
They assembled above, below, and beside the heating plate and fell asleep forthrightly.
Since they were in the bin for an early bedtime, I let them out early. Not outside. It’s in the 30s and windy. They’ll stay in the study today.
BeBe was back with the pack again for the most part. Her aloofness last night was weird, but I may have caught her mid-nap, or since pecking order is setting in more now, maybe BeBe’s being pushed out harder than before. Whatever it is, she does sort of stick to the edge of the action.
Don’t feel bad: she still gets her way when it matters. She’s not above pushing through the crowd to roost next to Cogburn or get her water from a jar lid. To BeBe, jar-lid water is as fine as mealworms, which I fed them by hand today, and now they love me more than ever.
Scratch grains were less successful. The grains are too big for them! I think of these chicks as huge, but in reality, they’re about 1/4 the size they should be full grown. We’ll try the grains again in a few weeks.
They hopped in and out of the brooder, sat on my lap, napped in the sunbeam. I like to match my
work clothes jammies to my chickens.
They were calm enough that I only looked in on them every 45 minutes. They spent 10 hours free in the study and didn’t make much mess. A super thorough disinfecting and dusting will be happening in here tomorrow when they’re outside again, but this was a surprisingly successful day.
By 10:30, the temperature showed no sign of climbing out of the low 50s. Yesterday was a good day indoors, but we’re low on paper towels thanks to CV-19, and the chicks belong outside as long as they can be there without catching cold.
We weighed our options. With this many feathers, they should be fine with the option to sit under the heater, but the chicken run doesn’t currently have a power hook-up. It’s really too far to run an extension cord, and we ruled out rolling the tractor up to the barn. It’s heavy enough that it’s a production to roll it uphill. We’ll only move it a significant distance when we plan to leave it in that area for more than a day.
Inspiration struck, and we raided our junk pile, which every good homestead must have. In 20 minutes, we built a pen next to barnbungalow out of scrap wood and leftover fencing. I put rocks in pie plates for a feeder and waterer, plugged in the heater, and released the crate full of chicks.
We’ve gone full “country” out here. The chickens looooove the pen. They dustbathed so much that every bird was clay-colored by the end of the day. You can see the Brahma pullet in the middle laid out completely on her side in the sun.
In the high 50s, they jostled for position under the heater while dustbathing, but I’m not sure they were there for heat. They seemed to be using the heater for shade. When temperatures reached the mid 60s, Cogburn and the Brahmas all found a spot in the non-heater shade to nap. That’s a good sign.
The pen is wired on top to protect from hawks. Raccoons and other ground predators could make short work of the pen if we weren’t around, but it’s next to the house, inside the dog fence. Since our wildlife has thousands of undeveloped acres to roam, it’s unlikely they’ll ever venture into the dog fence.
A big bonus is that it’s right next to the garden and the inflatable hot tub, so we’re spending plenty of time in this area during quarantine anyway.
At the end of the day, I put the heater and chicks back in the brooder, where they fell asleep right away. It was a good day for chicks.
This morning, it unexpectedly rained and rained. Yippee. When it slowed down at noon, I loaded up restless chicks. Yesterday, they went outside at 55°F with wind and used their heater for shade. Today, they’d be in 57° with no wind but with damp feet. Plus, no heater, since they’d have to be back down in the tractor – the dirt pen becomes the “mud pen” in the rain.
They had almost 5 hours outside. Wonky weather or not, they liked it.
I always have my eyes on the sky for the hawks, and suddenly there was one, circling low over the run!
All the chicks calmly appeared back in the tractor except Popsicle, who’s always on Popsicle’s agenda. She was grazing in the middle of the run, oblivious to the threat. I stood over her, waving my arms at the hawk, who just kept circling until a different hero intervened: a crow.
Crows are a mixed bag. They occasionally attack small chicks or eggs, but they also attack raptors. I’ve seen this crow go after the hawks a few times this week. I think it lives in the tree canopy by the chicken run, and the hawks live across the field on the hill above the barn. What a soap opera.
The hawk reluctantly flew off. It was a relief to have the crow’s help as I tried to round up Popsicle, who was still way too busy to go back to the tractor right now. That hawk wasn’t afraid of me at all. I’m starting to wonder if our grid of strings and sparkling CDs will be enough even when the chickens are full grown.
Speaking of dangers, people had been texting all day to make sure we knew about the weather forecast, which called for 80mph wind. The severity seemed to be easing up throughout the day as the front approached us, but at 4:30, I checked the radar and saw a band of red rolling towards our ZIP. I threw down the computer, grabbed oats, and ran down for the chicks. They’ll hopefully live through many good storms in their lives, but for now, they don’t need to experience the smoky mountain fury. They’re just babies.
Back in the study, 5 chickens hopped on my lap to fall asleep. The rain started. No fury yet. The red band broke up before it reached us. When the rain stopped, we went up to our well house to clear up a water issue, leaving the chicks free in the study. I checked in on them when we came back at dusk. They were roosting in and on the brooder bin. I didn’t even close them in the bin. They spent the night on the edge of the bin.
They’re so fluffy now that when they sleep, they look like water balloons with beaked faces.
The fury arrived by 10:30 last night, with 2″ of rain. It was clear by dawn. And windy again, in tree-toppling, house-shaking gusts. The chicks spent the morning in the study. At 10:30, when temperatures reached the high 50s, I carted them to the tractor, where they spent the day. It was chilly and windy, and they were fine. Hooray. Because tomorrow will be low 50s, and I think they got this.
They come out of the tractor for 15 minutes at a time, then run back in to eat and nap, which is convenient. I don’t even have to round them up.
They’re growing more independent and exploring the run more.
They still come sit on my lap after a while. I’m sure some of them will grow out of this, which is good because there’s no way that many will fit on my lap when they’re full size.
They slept on the edge of the bin again last night. When light starts at 6:30ish, I can hear them waking up in the study. This morning, as soon as they hopped down in the bin for food and water, I closed the lid on them so they didn’t get too rambunctious. They like a long nap in the morning anyway.
The temperature didn’t reach 50 until 11 a.m. I brought them to the dirt pen with their heater. They were frisky, like dogs in cold weather. We brought them treats throughout the day, like garden thinnings and fermented feed. Chris fed them mealworms, which gave him mad chicken points.
I only saw Popsicle go under the heater, and only for a short nap. The temperature topped at 57 (we have a weather station; that’s how I track the temperature so closely).
As the sun set, I worked on the garden, partly to be chick-adjacent to listen for peeps if they got cold. I ducked inside to put on my farm jacket, a down puffy bought before I became a more conscious shopper. There are some terribly cruel down-collection practices, but by the time I understood that, I already owned the jacket and decided not to compound the sin by dumping it.
I kept working and waiting for the chicks to ask to come in. Fifty degrees…48…47…It was amazing how normal they were in the coldest temperatures they’ve experienced so far. Then I realized we were all staying warm the same way: feather coats. We’ve been stealing feathers from birds for a reason. They’re fantastic insulation.
Even the slow-growing Langshans seem to have enough feathers to handle the cold weather now. They’ve grown a lot just this week. Baby Langshan feather patterns are neat. Very “quoth the raven.”
At the beginning of the week, the flock seemed mildly panicky at 60°. Tomorrow, we’ll have a chance to let them test the low 40s.
7 weeks old! Out in 45° with no problem. Stayed in the dirt pen until sunset. BeBe, Eula, and Cogburn wouldn’t run into the crate for oats, so I closed the others in and gently scooped up BeBe first to carry her the 30′ back to the study.
Cogburn chased us for a moment. I’m not sure whether to be worried or thrilled. Probably thrilled. A good rooster is protective, and young roosters are supposed to test you. He’s really young, though.
I’ve noticed him waiting to grab treats until the pullets have them, too, except where mealworms are involved.
The forecast is slowly looking better. There may be a sunny day here or there without high wind finally, and nighttime temperatures should be in the 50s starting next week, unless there’s a surprise, post-Tax Day freeze.
This week, I started researching and shopping for bedding for the coop. In week 8, we’ll see if we can turn brooding chicks into outdoor chickens.