Stupid chickens

I spent a fair amount of time today fixing the chickens’ roost—it was in the wrong location, encouraging them to sleep in the draftiest area of their coop, and I think it contributed to them catching colds during the colder/wetter weather. It was also directly outside their nest box area, which meant that the area of the coop with the most droppings was what they were walking through to on their way to lay. Ick. So I crawled in and remodeled this afternoon, moving the high roost to the interior corner, away from drafts and the nest box. I also completed a second nest box on top of the first, with a way for them to get from the low roost into the high box via a little ramp. (There have been … issues with multiple chickens trying to use the same nest box at the same time.)

I just went out there to see how they like the new arrangement. Apparently, they don’t. Trouble and Miss Thing are crammed in between the roof and the top of the upper nest box, pressed against the chicken wire window. Durf is sleeping on the ramp into the upper box. They’re in exactly the same place, only now they don’t have a roost there. What the heck, chickens? Am I going to have to put bricks or something up there to encourage them to try the new roost?

This would make more sense if I had photos, but I didn’t think to take any earlier. Although, hmm… maybe I’ll go back out and take a photo of how they’re sleeping right now.

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And now that I see the photos, I think they’re going to be crapping in their water all night. That won’t do. New plan: find a longer piece of 2×2 and make them a perpendicular roost that runs all the way across the interior side of the coop. And then put something on top of the nest boxes so they don’t roost there.

First dozen eggs

The chickens have laid their first dozen eggs over the course of about a week, maybe 9 days:

First dozen eggs Three representative eggs

I believe that the lightest in color come from Durf, the medium from Trouble, and the dark from Miss Thing. A few of them are cracked at the tip; I suspect this is because they keep scratching all the material out of the nesting boxes before laying, exposing the bare wood. If I can find a plain coir doormat, I may cut liners for the nest boxes out of that and see if it helps.

First egg!

Apparently the fuss the chickens were making this morning was due to one of them laying her first egg:

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I’m very surprised to see that it’s almost exactly the same size and weight (55g) as a large egg from the store. The last time I had chickens, I remember them starting off with undersized and less sturdy eggs–the shells were softer, and the eggs were about half size. Could we have just missed that phase with these chickens? I don’t remember seeing any evidence of eggs, broken or otherwise, in the coop before today. Maybe we just have these chickens on a better diet than the ones we had when I was a kid.

In any case, hooray! They’re finally starting to earn their keep.

And that’s why we call her Durf

Further evidence that if Durf, our Buff Orpington were any dumber, we’d have to water her twice a week: she isn’t bright enough to come in out of the rain. I just went out to make sure the chickens were all locked up in their coop for the night, and found Durf on the perch in the uncovered run area, dripping wet, muttering unhappily. I tried poking her off the perch, and she just sidled away from me. So I lowered the perch to the ground, hoping she’d get the clue and go inside. Nope, she just stood there on the lowered perch, getting rained on. So I had to climb inside the run, pick her up, and put her in the enclosed coop. Where she proceeded to just stand there, occasionally pecking at the ground. I tried lighting a path for her from where she was to the area of the coop with the night-time perches, and she just blinked at me. So I had to get back into the coop and shepherd her into the fully-enclosed area. Eventually, she got the idea, and I heard her hop up onto one of the perches.

But, come on. Sitting in the rain and cold, when there’s a warm perch with the two other chickens not 10 feet away. I worry about Durf. On the one hand, she’s a bully to the other chickens. On the other hand, she’s about as smart as a cabbage. Maybe being a bully is all she has.

Chicken run, mark 2

The temporary chicken run didn’t work out so well–the wire sides folded over and the top netting sagged enough that Miss Thing managed to get herself tangled up in it and nearly strangled herself. So a more permanent solution was called for. Our more permanent (but still constructed in such a way as to allow for easy reconfiguration) solution involved a whole bunch of 4’x4′ frames made of 2×2 treated lumber and 1×2 welded wire fence, held in place with sturdy stakes and covered with chicken wire stapled to the top.

The chickens seem pretty happy with it:

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Good bye, driveway

We haven’t had a car (working or otherwise) in over two years, and we have no plans to get another. We do have plans for a lot more vegetable gardening, though, and the driveway was just taking up space we could be using for more raised beds. So last weekend we took out most of our driveway.

Using only a 6-foot pry bar, a 4-lb hand sledge and chisel, and some 4x4s (plus, later, a borrowed 10-lb sledge to break up the larger chunks once they’d already been lifted out), we got about 3/4 through before deciding to call it a day. We thought we might have to borrow a jackhammer, but it turned out that once we got the first chunk out, it was all possible with proper leverage and hand-chipping.

I think we’re looking at putting in another couple of large beds there, and maybe a wood-fired pizza/bread oven. We’ll see. For now, I still have to find the carbide blade for the sawzall to see if it will work on the last section, which isn’t already cracked at the point where we want to stop pulling it up.

We have mushrooms!

I swear, I looked away for just a moment, and pow! Mushrooms! The kit I started on the 19th has started producing, right on time. Unfortunately, the mushrooms are showing the long skinny “octopus” formation that indicates that they’re not getting enough light. I’m not yet sure what to do about that. I don’t think I have a spot that provides better indirect natural light. Time to get out the light-meter.

Besides learning that I needed more light for good fruiting, I’ve learned a few other things from that kit, not the least of which were to use a humidity tent and to get the coffee grounds pretty damp. (They’re really not all that hydrated when they come out of the espresso machine.)  That was probably the major problem with the batch I started from grocery-store oyster mushrooms. I should have hydrated the grounds. And I think it would have been better to start with a more modest batch of substrate and then expand the mycelium out into a whole bucket; the mycelium wasn’t quite keeping up with the bacteria on the bottom, I think.

I should look into this stuff: Growing Mushrooms with Hydrogen Peroxide. Not that building my own laminar flow hood doesn’t sound like fun!

Chicken update

Still no eggs. The chickens are still growing, I’m pretty sure, though much more slowly now.

I’m sorry to say that Trouble is losing her beautiful pristine white color and gaining some yellowish patches. She’s also getting really good at leaping from the ground to my shoulder, and I’m having to invent new, advanced chicken dislodgement techniques to get her off me. It looks like Trouble’s going to stay a wee thing; I hope she lays well, and isn’t just a runt. (She was a small chick and had a rough start.) For all I know, she’s just right; poultry experts seem to have have varying opinions about just how substantial a Delaware ought to be. Temperamentally, she remains herself: ruthlessly inquisitive, voracious, fond of buttons.

Miss Thing is getting friendlier and more curious. She’s looking very cute these days. La Thing does express her curiosity through biting sometimes, though she’s usually fairly gentle with it. The pecking, not so gentle.

Durf, on the other hand, seems to be getting a little wilder. You can really see the meat-breed lineage in her these days — her legs are enormous, and if you grab her across the wings, she feels solid, like a big dog feels solid. She used to get a little bullied, but she seems to have noticed at last that she’s twice the size of Trouble and is now making a play to be something other than the omega chicken.

After an unfortunate incident with the first run on the 8th, they’ve been stuck in their coop until we can get the next one built. It’s a pretty plush coop, with a covered run, but they’re not too happy about it. They’ve been getting a little squabbly. And who can blame them? Being cooped up does that to me, too. I hope to get the run up for them very soon, and with luck, maybe we’ll score some fresh straw for them from one of the grocery-store pumpkin displays.

Pleurotus bucket is growing; compost is confusing

Well, my slapdash attempt at growing oyster mushrooms is coming right along. There’s definitely some mold contamination in some spots, but it’s very limited. [ETA 9/28: Yeah, not so much with the limited anymore.] The mycelium is doing its thing.

You can get a kit from Fungi Perfecti for growing a bucket full of Pleurotus on coffee grounds. (Not to mention a lot of other neat kits. I’m taken with the shaggy manes and garden giants.) I think they may mix in some more carbonaceous materials, and I’m pretty sure they start with a whole lot of sawdust spawn. That might give Pleurotus a boost in outcompeting the mold.

Speaking of Fungi Perfecti, I talked to a guy there who hasn’t seen any ill effects from using spent Pleurotus bags in his compost. (Nice, helpful guy. Myco geeks rule.) The inhibition effect was seen by a woman who grew it together with vegetables; I wonder if perhaps the stuff is just so aggressive that it’ll sometimes go after root hairs. It’s pretty hungry stuff.

I’ve been reading up about this critter. People who grow it at home without a lot of experience or equipment have reported no little trouble getting it to fruit. That sometimes might be because they don’t know, as I didn’t know, that it requires light to form primordia (“pinheads”) and fruiting bodies. Chang and Miles say, in their wildly expensive textbook Mushrooms, “The [formation of primordia] requires light of 200 lux intensity for over 12 hours. The growth of the fruiting body requires light of 50 to 500 lux intensity.”

I’ve also been reading up about compost, and getting a lot of contradictory advice with not much in the way of scientific references, and all of it strongly expressed. Add lime! Don’t add lime! Hot! Cold! Add soil! Don’t add soil! Yay wood chips! Boo wood chips! For crying out loud. The TAMU guide has some hiccups but might be the best of the lot. Its take on lime is interesting:

Ammonia escapes as ammonia hydroxide as the pH rises above 7.0. In the later stages of composting the pH may rise to between 8.0 and 9.0. At this time there should not be an excessive amount of nitrogen present as ammonia. Materials which contain large amounts of ash will have a high pH and may be expected to lose more nitrogen.

Some compost operators have suggested the addition of lime to improve composting. This should be done only under rare circumstances, such as when raw material to be composted has a high acidity due to acid wastes or contains materials which give rise to highly acid conditions during composting. It is recommended that when the pH remains above 4.0 to 4.5, lime should not be added. The pH will be increased by biological action and nitrogen will be conserved.