Chickens in the pastures

Now is the time to think poultry.  I have 27 various poultry running around in 3 pastures.  Last year at this time I had none.

I have been amazed at how easy it was to raise these birds.  Here are some things to think about before jumping into the poultry arena.

1.  Read, read, read. I recommend this  book to start with,”Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens.”

Know what you are  getting into.  They depend on you for food and water each and every day.  They cannot be without water no matter what.

2.  Research the kind of chickens you want.  Their temperaments and reliability as layers or meat birds. 

3.  Check a forum or two.  This one I have enjoyed and it has lots of areas to get info from

4.  A local online hatchery can help you also.  I ordered from Ideal because they are located in Texas and I knew my birds would not have to be shipped far.  Read their care tips and also their is a links page.

5.  Be sure you have all the items you need BEFORE your birds are scheduled to arrive.  With IDEAL I could actually request the week I wanted my birds here and they were right on time the first week of June last year.  You MUST have a safe place for the little chicks to live for a few weeks. 

a.  I used a narrow old water trough that didn’t hold water any longer. 

the first trough; long and narrow

the first trough; long and narrow

 I moved it into my garage while one car had to stay outside for those first weeks.  We put pine shavings in the bottom a few inches deep, and on top it is most important that you spread out paper towels or some non-slick surface that you can discard when soiled.  Paper towels allow easy removal; just unroll in one continuous length; you might need to overlap and have 2 or 3 lengths. Replace as needed.  This will also keep the little ones from trying to eat the shavings; they will learn what to eat the next few weeks.  We started out with a smaller size trough and moved them all into a big round one when they got bigger and needed more room; again covered with chicken wire.  You can use what you have for a “house”; but you need good access to it to keep it clean and dry.

all the pretty chicks

all the pretty chicks

b.  Buy or make waterers that won’t easily tip or spill (you can find online instructions for homemade). 

c.  Have feed dishes that are not too big or too deep.  I bought the long red chick feeder from Tractor Supply that has individual holes in it; easy to fill and clean and keeps them out of it. 

chicks feathered out; now in the larger trough

chicks feathered out; now in the larger trough

d.  Buy a red bulb heat lamp/ warmer.  We were able to set up a ladder over the trough.  This allowed an easy way to hang the light from the ladder centered over the trough and then raise it as needed.  Be sure to read the heat requirements for the chicks; as they get older and feather out you want them rely less on the heat lamp so you will raise it to reduce heat and eventually get rid of it. Buy a monster sized thermometer at Dollar Tree for one dollar and monitor the trough floor temp.  Read the book on how to determine correct temp.  You don’t want your chicks chilled.

e.  Be sure to track down your best source of chick feed.  Tractor Supply and my local farmers co-op had good supplies.  Check out the co-op and become a member; you can get discounted prices on supplies and feed.

f.  make sure the chick house is varmint proof.  We sometimes get snakes in the garage so we covered the trough with chicken wire stapled to 2×4’s to weigh down the cover and keep them from flying out accidentally; it worked like a charm.

6.  Lastly, you MUST be with the chicks round the clock to make sure they do not run out of water and keep them clean, correct temperature, and dry.  Everything I have read says DRY is key so don’t let any soiled or wet shavings hang around long.  Get it cleaned up and replaced daily.  You can just clean up the soiled/wet  spots; you don’t have to clean the whole trough.

7.  Be aware you might have a few casualties.  You can’t always know why.  As long as the others are healthy you should be okay.  Just be observant of the others.  I had 2 birds die at different times in the troughs just before I was ready to move them outside at 8 weeks.  I have no clue why; it could have been their own stamina was lacking for some reason.  They others all survived to this day.

8.  Be sure you have your facilities ready for housing the birds; they will be ready to move outside at about 8 weeks of age.  Have all the coops, runs, fencing in place BEFORE the 8 weeks is up.

If you are unsure about chickens, just jump in.  I decided “what do I have to lose except maybe a few chickens?”  I maybe would not recommend so many to start with but I couldn’t resist all the choices.  I have 5 types of rare breed pullet pairs, 7 guineas assorted colors (they keep away mice and snakes and a good stranger alarm), and 10 straight run Partridge Silkie bantams (I lucked out and got only one rooster in this straight run; they are precious). 

If I was just starting out, I would recommend the Silkie’s because they are so cute and so docile.  I have one who comes to my feet wanting to be picked up and held.  They do lay small eggs and very much the “setters”.    I may have them hatch a few eggs this year and see how that goes.

No matter what, if you want chickens, get some and give it a try. Here are some of my cuties now….img_0029_edited

one of my partridge Silkie bantams

one of my partridge Silkie bantams

Buff cornish

Buff cornishBuff Wyandotte

Five management tips to use on the ranch

We all discover a little tool or helpful hint that makes our life a little easier each day. Here are 5 of my favorites so far:
1. an old tire around a 5 gal bucket I use to water the animals (keeps alpacas from kicking them over and chickens like to stand on tire and drink from the bucket too)
2. A little keychain penlight/alarm holds exterior building keys (the light is handy to light my way and check on the chickens after dark); bought at Dollar Tree for one dollar
3. plastic tubs also bought at Dollar tree for one dollar each; used as nesting boxes (husband built a frame with the cut out narrow enough that the box drops into and hangs by the lip surround; easy to take out and easy to clean)
4. A big thermometer bought at Dollar Tree for one dollar; hangs inside each chicken coop and the barn to keep an eye on hot or cold temps and monitor animal health
5. old unusable metal water troughs salvaged from our pastures; I keep all my feeds in these; mice cannot climb up and into and the feed stays organized and dry; they are not pretty (bent and dented) but that’s okay, they are in the barn storage area

Spring is springing

Spring is my favorite time of year. Who can resist the little daffodils?  They grab my attention.  But ususally I see flowering quince first.  I want to plant some of that.  At our other house I planted a row of Bardford Pear trees and I loved seeing them all in bloom.  I want to plant a row of those here too.  The David Austin roses are leafing out and soon I should have some pretty blooms, I hope, like last year.

the form is perfect

the form is perfect


The alpacas are out grazing almost all day; not much brome grass has sprung up yet but what is up they are really working to munch on.  I was out in the pasture yesterday filling in holes in the ground (rabbits,mice?) so they wouldn’t trip or worse, break a leg, and noticed the grass is coming in really nice. Tthey have not been chowing down on the hay as much.  I just restocked but I think maybe have overstocked a little. 

I worked on cleaning the chicken coops; they really aren’t terribly bad.  My first flock of chickens and they have been delightful.  I have 3 coops in separate pastures so they will spread out and eat bugs galore.  I have used the deep litter method, and sprinkling with Stall Dry to keep down any odor, absorb moisture, and lay down diotomaceous earth to help eliminate bugginess.  They are all healthy and active.

my pretty Partridge Silkie bantams

my pretty Partridge Silkie bantams

img_0013And I really like that here in north Texas spring arrives earlier than it does in Kansas.  We may have a late, errant cold snap around Easter but starting in February we can usually count on mild days sprinkled in with some colder ones.  The warm, windless days are the best and we take full advantage by getting out and doing as much as we can around the place.  Today I am off to get more chicken feed and then do some more “pasture maintenance” (alpaca’s poop pile cleanup).

Australian bushfires appeal

The Australian bush fires have claimed lives, towns and wildlife.  People are missing.  This is the worst bushfire in Australia’s history.  It is still burning.

 The Red Cross is appealing for money, not goods.  I have a site link to this Australian based company trying to raise money and you get 5 of their  PDF books for $29.95, regularly $149.95, and they will donate the ENTIRE $ 29.95 towards the Red Cross fund. The DEADLINE is  this FRIDAY, FEB. 13.   I have chosen my 5 PDF books and paid by Paypal.  You can also pay by credit card.In 24 hours they have exceeded their $50,000US goal and are on their way towards $100,000US.


Here is the link; see if you can help them.  If not, please consider donating to the Australian Red Cross. A link also below.

From The Australian Red Cross Website:

Red Cross response (2pm, 11 February)

  • Over 160 lives lost with the number expected to increase as authorities access more homes and discover vehicles in which people attempted to escape the fires.
  • Currently we are involved in the response phase providing temporary accommodation and food in around 20 evacuation centres. We have registered 7,500 people and provided 4,500 first aid treatments.  
  • We have a team at Kinglake with medical supplies and food — they are visiting a community who chose not to leave when the fires came through and who have not had any contact since. Priorities will be medical help, food and registering their names so family and friends know they are safe and well.
  • Another team are focusing on the Whittlesea evacuation centre as people are able to return to their homes for the first time. Our team will be offering personal support as this is going to be a very difficult time for those returning.
  • People from around Australia and around the world are phoning through to our Inquiry Centre to check on family and friends.  Volunteers who are trained in personal support are relaying heartwarming as well as heartbreaking, stories as the calls come in. In the past 24 hours alone we have answered 6,000 enquiries.
  • Over 400 volunteers and staff continue to work in rotating shifts. Red Cross call centres in WA, ACT and NSW have opened to help deal with the volume of calls from people checking on the welfare of evacuees.


Checking on friends and family in the area

  • people should ring 1800 727 077 if they are unable to contact someone in the affected areas
  • for people overseas enquiring about family and friends in the bushfire affected areas, please call +61 3 9328 3716 or
    +61 8 9225 8880

These lines are very busy, so we ask that people please be patient when calling.

Alpacas and hay



Flash, our pretty rose grey female

Flash, our pretty rose grey female

We just got our alpacas on-site a year ago in November.  I thought it would never happen. We find our place, move , get barn and pasture set up and then get the alpacas moved down from Ohio and Nebraska. I am a little out of order on this, because we actually had an opportunity to get them all moved down at once and then boarded nearby until we were ready for them.  And after moving here and before getting the animals, we had our daughter graduate from college, our daughter get married, and our son get married (already graduated from college), all in less than a year.  Whewwww; I am glad we are past all that stress. Now moving on to a different kind of stress.

My husband and I have not lived on a farm/ranch.  We had relatives who did, and I delighted in visiting my paternal grandparents in Stafford, Oklahoma at their farm.  As a child I was not aware that an outhouse and a pitcher pump at the kitchen sink were in any way a hardship.  The old handcrank phone on the wall still meant  relying on how many rings  to know if the call was yours or someone else’s on the partyline. No airconditioning, and the only heat from a gas stove in the living room. Sleeping on the small screened in porch in summer was delightful but scary as the coyotes howled. I loved hearing and seeing the train whistle down the track nearby and jackrabbits run and jump out of the way. Feeding the minnows in the cows stock tank dry  oatmeal so they would come up to the surface scrambling for a morsel. Helping feed chickens, holding new chicks, gather eggs,  or gather sweet corn. To a kid from the city it is heaven.  I loved the outdoors and dirt and bugs didn’t bother me a bit.   So, we bought our own bit of heaven on 104 acres in northeast Texas.

So now we have our barns and pastures, and our animals living here for just over a year.  Learning to care for the animals is a learning curve; you never really stop learning.  We were lucky that the previous owners had all  pastures in grass for their bison.  The 3 acres we fenced in with alpaca friendly fencing (the other acres are cross fenced  in barbed wire), I was not sure what was planted there.  I took a handful of grass in to the USDA office and she identified it as brome, which is just fine for alpaca grazing.  During the winter we buy small hay bales for them to eat. Usually a flake a day per animal works out about right.   As the grasses come in I cut back on how much hay is put out.  Luckily, our neighbor across the road is a full time hay grower and has really nice coastal Bermuda, which is a preferred hay for alpacas in this area.  He owns and rents several large areas of land  and has multiple locations for his hay storage.  We just have to drive across the road to get ours.  How lucky for us. The alpacas love it and the chickens like to scrounge around in it for hiding crickets and bugs and grass seed heads.img_0013

The local co-op manager (another neighbor) had a new product in his store called Chaffhaye.  It is used in place of hay.  He gave me a sample package. the alpacas were not too fond of it; I mixed it in with their evening feed.  They kept rotating among feed dishes trying to find one without any in it. I have added a little bit every so often in their evening feed and they have become familiar with the taste.  I will maybe keep some on hand to mix in regularly.  It is supposed to be better for the animal as it is alfalfa hay mixed with molasses to encourage better digestion and is compressed and bagged so it is easy to transport and no mess.  Alfalfa can create various issues for alpacas so I will not feed it full strength at this point.  But it is a handy source to have as a backup and extra treat for them.

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