Friday, January 31, 2014

Chicken Breed Information - What Breed Will Suit Your Needs

The seed and hatchery catalogs are beginning to arrive in the mail box and it's time to start planning for spring.  If your like me the first catalog that shows up gives me some awful spring fever.  I'm receiving many emails from first time poultry purchasers and they're needing advice as to what breed will best suit their needs.  Some people are looking for chickens that are best for children, or the best egg producer. Others just want a variety of color in their flock.  Most want a beautiful basket of eggs when they go to gather them.  It's a very good idea to do your research on the breeds you are most interested in to see if they fit your needs.  It is amazing how different each breed can be, they all have very distinct personalities. Some chickens are better with children, some a better foragers, others are good for free ranging but others aren't.  We offer 13 different breeds on the farm to choose from, some have very similar personalities but others can differ greatly.  I thought this would be a good time to give you as much information as possible before you begin to choose the breed that fits your farm or backyard perfectly. Since we have so many different breeds I will touch on a couple of breeds each week, so stay tuned...

Let's begin with the Welsummer.  The hen is a beautiful brown, her head is a shimmering golden. Photos don't do her justice.  They're a very hearty bird, good foragers.  Welsummers are calm not flighty, friendly but not over curious.  Some Welsummers hens can be very chatty so if you need a very quite bird, she might not be for you.  She will love to announce she has laid an egg.   I enjoy hearing them but your close neighbor may not.   Welsummers lay the most beautiful Terra Cotta colored egg with spots, some produce fine tiny spots, some produce bigger spots.  This happens to be my most favorite egg layer on the farm.  If I produced an egg as pretty as she did, I would want to holler loud and announce it for all to see as well. The Welsummers aren't a good winter time layer, they will stop laying the first sign of cold weather and won't start laying again until the first sign of spring. So if you need a bird that will lay all winter she may not be for you.  She will however make up for it during the warmer months when she will turn on the laying and lay a nice large spotted egg that are totally worth waiting for.  I have heard feed back from folks who ordered Welsummers from large hatcheries and the hens did not produce the nice dark brown eggs.  If you want a nice dark egg don't make that mistake and order a cheaper chick from a large hatchery, only to wait 6 months for an egg and then be disappointed with a washed out slightly brown egg.
The Welsummer roosters are great while free ranging your flock.  You won't find him with his head down, he will always be at attention watching for any sign of trouble.  You might remember the Corn Flakes rooster, Cornelius, he was a Welsummer. The Welsummers can tolerate cold temperatures but the roosters will get frost bite on the comb, as you can see pictured here.  I've not received any feed back from customers in warmer climates, I would be interested to know if the Welsummer continues egg production in warmer areas.
Welsummer chicks are easily hatched, I can't say this for all breeds.  The chick is brown, striped like a little chipmunk.  The Welsummer is a breed that can some what be sexed as a chick with the brown V on the head  and stripe across the eye.  We do not sex our day old chicks and they are always sold straight run.  This breed is excellent around children.

Blue Laced Red Wyandotte

It's difficult to pick a farm favorite but if I did, this breed would rank right up at the top of the list. When breeding this bird you will get three different colors but they are still all Blue Laced Red Wyandotte and they are all equally beautiful.  The rooster pictured above is the Blue Laced coloring, the hen above him is the dark laced or black laced and the third color is called splash.  The picture to your right has 3 splash hens and 1 splash rooster.  Even though they are a splash color the feathers are still nicely laced.
The Blue Laced Red Wyandotte is a very docile, calm, friendly, curious and social breed.  I highly recommend them with young children.  Even though they are our breeding flock, when I let them out to free range, they run to the grand kids to see what treats they have to offer.  We've never had the time to spend taming them since they are used for breeding but they act as though we have hand raised each one.  We have 3 roosters in our breeding pen and they all get along fine.
The Wyandotte lays a very pretty pick egg.  They are good layers and it is one of our breeds that will continue to lay during the winter months.   Egg production does slow in the winter but you will still get a few.
The Blue Laced Red Wyandotte is an easy bird to hatch and the chicks are healthy spunky little birds. It takes a Blue Laced Red Wyandotte 2 years to fully color out.  So don't rush your bird and judge the coloring to early.  They are a heavy breed and I love there big blue fannies!!

I hope this is helpful information and if you have any questions your welcome to drop me an email on the website at / .  It's not to early to get those chick orders in, so stop in and take a look around.  I'm sure you'll find a breed you'll love!

Have a great Day!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Predator Proofing Our Chickens - A Hard Lesson Learned

Hey friends this is Melissa and today I want to share a little practical advice (That I had to learn the hard way.) on keeping your chickens safe from predators.  You may be thinking to yourself, “This girl has only had chickens for seven months, what could she know about keeping chickens safe.”  Well, unfortunately I learned that if chickens are let to roam freely it is only a matter of time until a predator will get them. 

My chickens have had a coop from the beginning, but have been allowed to free range all day.  I would let them out in the morning, then they would hunt bugs, dust, and scratch through our yard to their hearts content.  In the evening my rooster would lead his ladies back to the coop and there they would spend their night safely closed in.  Ever since we moved in October, my Aunt Angie tried to tell me that there are many more predators in a rural area.  She said, “If you do not watch it something is going to grab your chickens.”  I thought to myself, “The chickens stay in the yard, there is a huge open field all around our house.  No predator will come out into the open all the way into our yard and grab our chickens.” Unfortunately Aunt Angie was right.
Little is missed!  

 Several days ago we realized that our rooster named Little was missing.  My husband and I both looked all over our yard, the field,  and down the road for any sign of him.  It was almost as if he vanished.  We are almost certain that just as it was getting dark a fox or coyote slipped up on the chickens and, being the defender of the hens, Little was the victim.  Our hens really miss their rooster. Since Little lead the girls to the coop every night, without him they did not even go to the coop when it was getting dark.  We helped them out a few nights, then they adjusted and started going without our help.

I had to learn the hard way.  After the loss of Little I took Aunt Angie’s very good advice and fixed a nice large chicken run off the barn.  We moved the coop into the barn and now the chickens can spend their day’s safe in and out of the barn.  They have plenty of room to scratch and dust in their chicken run.  When we are outdoors I plan to let the chickens out to free range. 
This is our old barn.  It is not in the best shape, but it works for keeping the chickens safe.  Hopefully we will be doing some repairs to the barn when it gets warm.

Part of the reason that I had not taken Aunt Angie’s advice on keeping the chickens in a large pen, was because I felt they would be happier if let to free range the entire yard.  While the chickens LOVE to free range, it is better for them to be kept safe from predators. 

It is a little hard to see, but we have fence all around the lean-to
and the chickens access the barn through the door.  This was
already their favorite place to look for bugs, so it
worked out perfectly!

Our pen is very simple and something almost anyone can come up with.  We just used our preexisting barn.  We put a fence up around an old lean-to that is on the barn and then closed off all of the barn entrances so that no predators can get in.  The chickens are still spending their nights in the small and very secure coop so we did not have to go too wild predator proofing our entire barn.  My husband and I spent a couple hours in the cold and had the chicken run all ready to go.  Our chickens can now be safe and happy!

Have you ever had to learn anything the hard way?  Leave a comment and share it with us, maybe we can all learn from each other!

God Bless


Friday, January 17, 2014

Chicken Scratch Poultry, The Guest Speaker For Our Local 4H

Back in November I felt very honored to be asked to speak with our local 4H kids here in Hamilton Co. I've learned that over the past couple of years the kids in our area have become very interested in raising poultry for 4H.  Raising poultry is something even a youngster in town can do, when you don't live on a farm and have the option of having the larger animals.
Our farm was recently discovered out here in the country by one of the local 4H moms and they purchased a few birds from us, well it wasn't long and she approached me about speaking with the 4H kids about our breeding farm.  Most people in our area don't know that we're even here, we don't advertise locally and if you stopped in town and asked for directions to Chicken Scratch Poultry I don't think anyone could tell you where we are.  Most everyone around our area purchase their chicks from Rural King, which gets to be a little boring when the kids go to show their poultry and everyone has the same Rhode Island Red.  I've got nothing against Rhode Island Reds but let me tell you, there are prettier and better birds to be had.   So the 4H leaders thought it would be a good idea to let the kids know who we are and what we do.
Carrie and Glenna, the 4H ladies, put together a power point based on our website, which was a huge job and very well done!  I couldn't have done that without them.  We were just coming out of our busy season on the farm and had no time to prepare.  It was very well put together all I had to do was stand before the kids and their parents and illustrate as the photos scrolled.   I was as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  Not sure why it made me so nervous, I guess I wanted to make sure I gave them the best information I was capable of.

 The kids listened intently and seemed to be interested in what I had to say.  I hope I didn't bore them to death.

It was obvious that Glenna and Carrie had put many weeks of preparation into making this a special evening for the kids.

 Looking through the microscope at embryo  development was a big hit.  

The kids grading the eggs by weight.

I think the evening was fun and informative for the kids and hope to see some of them in the spring as they choose the breed of poultry that fits their needs.

Have a Great Day

Friday, January 10, 2014

Melissa's Young Hens Begin To Lay

Since hatching our chickens back in June, if I had a dollar for every time that one of the girls asked when our chickens would start to lay eggs, I could have quite the stash of cash.  As our chickens reached the six month old mark, I started to look for eggs quite often too.  The chickens get to free range each day so Aunt Angie told me to start looking around for eggs in random places.  We looked high and low and still no eggs.

Ella and Henny Penny playing.  Henny looks like she is having lots of fun!

We were getting very impatient, when finally during a very cold spell about a week and half ago, my husband found a pretty blue egg in our chicken coop.  After the first egg was found, the girls had to start taking turns being the egg retriever.  After a week of only finding blue eggs, we were wondering when our other hens would start to lay.  Aunt Angie kept telling me to look for eggs all around.  She suspected that the hens were probably hiding them.  Sure enough, while my husband and I were getting our chicken coop ready for cold weather that was due to move in, we discovered a whole pile of eggs up on some straw bales in our barn.  We were some very excited and proud chicken farmers!
Beautiful eggs from our Olive Egger, Ameraucana, Blue Lace Wyandotte, and French Black Copper Maran.

The weather here in Southern Illinois has been pretty awful this past week with record low temps.  We had to take special precautions to keep our chickens warm.  Lining their coop with extra straw and making sure that the heat lamp was staying on around the clock kept them all warm enough to keep on laying their beautiful eggs.   The girls are pretty sure that our fresh eggs are the tastiest they have ever had!

God Bless

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Farmers Head North To Alaska

Just before Christmas Larry and I headed North to Alaska for a quick visit.   Larry's family all live in  North Pole Alaska expect for one brother who lives in Oregon.  Larry's parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and we decided to make a surprise visit.
Larry and I met in Fairbanks Alaska during high school, my father was in the military and we moved often. Larry's parents had just moved their family to Alaska at the same time looking for work.  After Larry and I had dated for 2 years my dad was on the move again and we were leaving Alaska.  Larry decided to follow us to our next destination Pennsylvania.  Shortly after that move we were married and began our own family.
It was an honor to go and celebrate Larry's parents 50th wedding anniversary and they were very surprised to see us to say the least.  This is only our second time to return to Alaska since we left in 1986.
I can't say December is the best time to visit Alaska but it was absolutely beautiful.  We were blessed with good weather, just after we left the temperature dropped to -41.

Larry and I were welcomed into is brothers home to stay for a few days and received some absolutely great hospitality.  The photo to your right is Larry's brother, Shane, his wife Andrea, and their 3 children, Kyle, Brody, and Leslie.  Shane and his family live a life almost completely self sufficient.  I say "almost" because it is pretty difficult to be completely self sufficient.  I do however admire their way of life.  Andrea home schools their 3 children and takes it very seriously.  They grow all of their vegetables, kill a moose every fall and catch enough Salmon to last all winter.  They grow their own meat birds, turkeys ,rabbits and goats for milk and cheese.  I'm sure it's a great deal of work but they are truly blessed and happy.   I see a work ethic in their children that you just don't see very often anymore.

The long winding lane up to their house is absolutely breath taking, the trees are all flocked in glistening white.  Larry's parents live on the same lane and Shane keeps the snow plowed and cleared.


Larry and I shipped Shane and Andrea hatching eggs around 4 years ago.  They still have a few of the hens.  This is one of the Blue Laced Red Wyandotte hens, they say she still gives them a few eggs.  The hens are housed in a very nice coop.  The coop is kept warm with an old crock-pot.   They sit their waterer on the crock-pot to keep the water from freezing and the crock-pot also keeps the coop warm.  When we opened the door to take a peek at the girls, it was so warm in the coop that the air inside filled with a fogginess as the cold air rushed in

 The hens stay in the coop for months on end since the winters are so long and the ground is always snow covered.  As most of you know, hens aren't to fond of snow.  They have plenty of room in their coop and the girls seemed content to stay indoors. 
We were there on the shortest day of the year, they had 3 hours of day light that day, the sun wasn't able to get high enough to even peek up over the horizon and then it took another dive and it was dark again.   It gets day light around 10:00 a.m. in the morning That bothered me more that the getting dark early. With such short day light hours it is important to provide artificial light for poultry.

Next we were off to see the goats.  I very much wanted to be able to milk the goat while I was there but as it turned out, they allowed her to dry up.  For some strange reason they didn't want to milk the goat at -41, I just couldn't understand that.

The goats are very sweet and eager for attention.   Andrea's doe will freshen or kid in February and she looks like she could have 3 kids in that enormous belly!
Brody's doe is a first timer, it will be interesting to hear how many kids she will have.

Kyle's wether has a great disposition.  Kyle show's him at the fair and he always shows very well.  The wether will even pull Kyle on skis, I would have loved to seen it!  
Shane and Andrea heat their home with wood.  I was curious as to how much wood it takes to get through the winter.  Kyle was happy to show me and explained that this winters wood and next winters wood was stacked and drying, ready to burn.  This photo is only showing half of the wood.  I can honestly say I've never been so toasty warm in a home. Since our home is heated with all electric we try to keep the thermostat  turned down low, brrr. Kyle does a great job keeping the wood brought into the house.

This is the cute little kindling shed.  I found it all so interesting, I poked my head in every little building I could find.

That same day just as it was getting dark, which was only about 3:00 in the afternoon.  We decided to go take a look at all the beautiful Ice sculptures in North Pole.  It was amazing what they had made from ice. The ice is taken from a rock quarry full of water.
They cut out large slabs that are probably 
8ft. x 5 ft. x 12in and crystal clear.

This is a couch of ice, they tried to talk me into sitting on it with Larry so they could get our picture.  I was already half froze and couldn't bare to sit my rump on the ice.  

There were 4 ice slides and Larry had to give them all a try.  By this time I could no longer feel my face, hands or feet and ready to head for some heat.

North Pole is an interesting little town, as I'm sure you all know, it's where Santa lives.  We took a quick drive past his house but we didn't stop in since it was just a couple of days before Christmas.  It looked as though he was very busy.  I'm sure he was checking his list twice.  I had taken a tour of his lovely home many years ago so I passed on it this time.

Santa's town, North Pole is decked out all year long. The streets have neat names like Candy Cane Lane, and St. Nickolas Lane.  The roads are white as snow, oh yeah that is snow.   The gas prices are a little high in his town.  I don't know if you can read that sign to the left but it's $3.73.   Now I know why he rides a sleigh.    


Even the McDonald's sign and street lights are striped like candy canes.


The Chicken Scratch Poultry farmers feel blessed to have spent time with our loved ones who live so far away.  We made some new friends while visiting in North Pole, Larry met a couple of bush pilots and is dreaming up a fishing trip.  I met a nice young man named Samuel and will be sharing some Chicken Scratch Poultry hatching eggs with him very soon.  Happy hatching Samuel! 
Happy New Year!!
Larry & Angie