Another snowstorm….and it’s officially Spring

Well, we were expecting a little snow, but this is just too much.  It started snowing yesterday, Saturday, evening and has been constant since then with wind speeds up to 35 mph.  We are really stunned to see this.  This is the 3rd major snow for us this winter, and it is highly unusual to get any snowfall during a winter.   We are northeast of Dallas.  The El Nino phenomenon has kicked in big time. 

I got everyone tucked in  Friday  night.  The alpacas got plenty of hay; the chickens got their feeders filled and water topped off.  I cleaned up the barn and everyone had clean places to lounge.  The wind has been straight out of the west and right into the barn and out the other east doors.  We left the roll up doors open in case they wanted to go out, but so far they have not.  They all have a coating of snow on them but are warm enough cushing in the barn.

The chickens filed out of the coops when their little door was opened and milled around.  They don’t mind the weather, and the barn is a space they like to hang out in and they are protected there.

We just stayed in the house and watched it snow.  Monday it is supposed to be in the 60’s so this will all melt soon enough, but we will be back into the wet and mucky ground once again.  More rain is expected this week.  We can’t seem to dry out more than two days before we have more wet weather.

We just were not expecting all this white; it’s about 3 inches on the ground and we are supposed to get another 3 or more today.  Unbelievable North Texas weather.

Guinea fowl in the barnyard

I just read an interesting article in my Hobby Farms magazine.http://www.hobbyfarms.com/

 They were featuring poultry and ducks, etc. in this issue.  The guineas they mentioned would not get along well with other chickens or smaller chickens in their coops at night, but I would beg to differ on that comment.

All my chickens and guineas arrived together as a few days old from Ideal Poultry Farms.  I did not lose a single one in transit and they all got along and were together from day one.  Maybe this can make a difference.  I have not added any new ones, except two that hatched out by their moms last June and are 2 gorgeous roosters.  They were “brothers” and get along great and all roost in the same coop at night, guineas, roosters, and chickens.  We have two other coops that a few hang out in, but the rest, all 12 of them, like to be in this one at night.

I have had more losses with the guineas from predators; mainly I think because they are not the “sharpest tack in the drawer”.  They forget they can fly “over” the 4 foot tall  fence if they get stuck on the other side and want to go where the others are.  They forget they have a huge barn to go inside of if they get locked out of the coop at night and it is raining.  They forget that predators will find them roosting asleep on the ground outside the coop when it is pitch black outside.  But I would miss them if they all left, and I will replace them when I need to rebuild that flock.  They can be loud at strange things, so close neighbors probably would not appreciate that.  We don’t have anyone close enough to hear them,  except us and I know something is wrong when they sound off and I investigate.

The alpacas have no tick or insect problems.  The pearl guinea is the prettiest and I like the lavenders too.  I would definitely want guineas again.

Hawk eyes

For the first time since we got our chickens and guineas over a year ago, all the guineas are roosting at night inside the coops.  The weather has been very fair recently, after all the rain we had, and in the past, the guineas loved to stay outside at night, all night.  I always worried about night predators for them.

Sometimes they would roost directly on the ground in groups, or they would fly up and stay on the coop rooftops. A perfect place for an owl to snatch one.

Several weeks ago I found a guinea dead on the ground, on it’s back with wings widespread and an obvious puncture wound in the chest, but no blood or other damage.  I speculated that it was picked up, but too heavy for the winged predator to carry off.

Curiously, now they ALL go inside the coops to be shut in. They all get along, chickens and guineas together, and seem to be glad to be there.  I wonder what scared them all so badly.  I have seen some stray white guinea feathers fluttering across the ground, but it is molting season and hard to know whether it is from molting or from running scared. 

When I am home and see hawks circling overhead I hope they move along. Occasionally I will see a kestral inside the barn flitting around when I turn on the lights in the evening to check water and hay for the alpacas. 

Today the guineas were outside a coop squawking their heads off. I was about to walk out to see what the trouble was when a huge hawk took off from the electrical pole adjacent to their pasture.  My question was answered.

Chickens in the rain

Being new to chickens, I have read alot about how to care for them.  Everyone has their own experiences and what works best for them.  Bottom line is that animals are versatile for the most part and will function just fine usually with what type shelter they are provided.  However, there are some ways to improve what you provide and make it a little more livable for them, especially in wet, cold,  or even hot weather. 

My chickens like to hang out in the alpacas barn (30×50 feet) if the weather is not nice for pasture foraging.  In the heat, they also like to hang out under the elevated coops (base size is 4×8 set up on  a cement block at each corner) where the cool earth and breezes  cool them.  In the winter the barn, bright sun, and hay on the floor helps warm them.  Their coops keep them warm enough at night when I shut them in and they can burrow into the deep litter and they mound together.  The decomposing litter also generates some heat, so I read, from the decomposition, which would create some heat for them.  So, keeping a deep litter in the coop is an easy way to improve their warmth.  I use a kitty litter scoop to remove any clumpy wet litter and to swish around the top layer into the bottom layer and get it started drying out.  I put a hook on one of the coop studs out of the way so I can reach the scoop and it’s so easy to keep the nest boxes, roosts and litter floor cleaned up.

Dealing with frozen water in winter is difficult.  Fortunately, they don’t need as much water as they do in summer, so they drink out of the alpacas buckets which take longer to freeze,   and I make sure  they start off the morning with fresh unfrozen water in their little waterers.  There are some heated waterers and heated bases to sit them on, but I have not tried those.  Last winter was the first winter and they all did just fine.  Since there isn’t really much of anything to forage from the pastures, I make sure their feed containers are kept full as the digesting of food will generate some body heat.  They also like to burrow into the alpacas hay troughs.  The alpacas eat “around” them. 

We don’t have too many “freeze” days in this part of the US, but still need to be ready for them because they almost always take us by surprise.

I have recommended them before, but I will again, and that is two books I have referred to constantly: Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow, and the other is The Encyclopedia of Country Living, by Carla Emery.  Find them at Amazon.com and you can create a book list and they will e-mail you whenever the prices change, higher or lower.  A great place to shop online.

What? My Guineafowl are nesting in the field?

I have 6 guineafowl: 5 white and 1 pearl (black with white dots).  I was noticing my pearl guinea was here one day and not the next and I would occasionally see it and then not, for a few days.  Then my husband was mowing the pasture and said there was a nest of eggs in one patch that he almost mowed over, including the pearl guinea that was sitting on it hidden in the grass; it would not move out of the way of the big noisy mowing machine.  So now, we have a patch of very tall grass in the pasture housing the nest. 

I have been checking on it.  I know the chickens take approximately 21 days to hatch eggs.  I researched and found guineas take longer, like 28 days or so. I really don’t know how long she has been on this nest; it seems like forever.  What I did notice is she comes off the nest during the day and gets a dust bath, eats and drinks, then scurries right back.  Sometimes she has a white guinea sitting with her,  for company  I guess.  Yesterday I was checking on the progress and see if any have hatched, so I had a long stick to move the tall grass out of the way.  She did not like that one bit and hissed at me, like a snake sounds.  I didn’t want to upset her so I left her alone.

I find it interesting that most recently there was a predator that killed a couple of my guineas (including my beautiful Lavender guinea) and made off with four of my bantam partridge silkies over a period of a few nights when it was hot and I wasn’t closing up the coops.  I now close them up each night, but what keeps this guinea on a nest in a field so protected from a predator?  Very curious.  We think our predator was a racoon.

I have no clue if any of the eggs are fertile so I guess we will just wait and see what happens.  There is quite a clutch of eggs so I may have surplus keets to sell in the future if she has a successful hatch. Here is a link to more info on Guineafowl. http://www.feathersite.com/Poultry/Guineas/BRKGuineas.html

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