“nice to meet you”: integrating your backyard chicken flocks

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Last year, after taking almost a year to settle into our new digs, we finally got a small flock of chickens.  We’d missed our girls (and their eggs!)  back in Montana and we were thrilled to have a great spot for a {sub}urban chicken yard.  (Check out the back posts on this blog for more details).  I must admit, though, that I was a bit nervous back in the Spring about introducing our newbies to the hens we acquired last year.  Chickens can be brutal and if one is pecked so hard that blood is drawn, those ladies will go cannibalistic and actually kill the bleeding bird.

Thankfully, none of this happened!  One key factor was that we selected friendly breeds.  Our older girls are a Buff Orphington and Wyandottes.  Our newbies are sweet Easter Eggers and Rhode Island Reds.  The second factor is that we slowly introduced the new chickens to the older ones by keeping the newbies in cages outside of the chicken yard (but close by) so that the older ones could check them out from a distance.  We did this for about two days for brief periods of time.  The final step was releasing the younger girls into the chicken yard at dusk.  Chickens are less likely to be aggressive at dusk and our older gals were no exception (much to my relief).  Also, they modeled for the younger ones the proper way to enter the coop.  And, yes, there was some squawking and light pecking but nothing too dramatic.  After a few days, they all figured out the new “pecking order” and have gotten along harmoniously since!

preparing for the grand introduction at dusk

preparing for the grand introduction at dusk

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it took the new girls a while to go in that night, but they eventually did

it took the new girls a while to go in that night, but they eventually did

 

 

 

 

 

phase 1 of the music cabinet redux

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Despite being able to barely carry a tune myself, I married into a wonderfully classically musical family.  And our children, thankfully, are following in their father’s footsteps.  Hence, we are beginning to accumulate sheet music with more to come.   Accumulating excessive piles of music on top of the piano, however,  just isn’t going to cut it around here.  So, back in January, I was trolling our local Goodwill and finally found an inexpensive piece to hack for a music cabinet.  I’ve been on the hunt for months!  For a mere $25 I scored this vintage entertainment center that looks like it was for one of those “box” TVs.  Do you remember those?  The ones with a dial?  The piece was in fairly decent shape with the exception of a bit of trim that needed to be glued and nailed.  I love the bowed front and the metal grill at the base.   The construction is solid and all that is needed is to have a backing added and the interior modified with shelving.  With our busy family schedule, I’m going to have to wait on the modifications but after having such a success with Vintage Market and Design furniture paint on our pantry doors, I couldn’t wait to paint again!  I’m hoping the entire piece will be done by summers end, but phase 1 of this project is officially complete.

I selected Peacock, a beautiful deep turquoise, to bring out the hint of turquoise in an art print we have hanging in the room.  Because I wanted more of a distressed look and didn’t have the extra money to buy the VMD waxes, etc., I just applied one coat of paint in a crosshatching pattern.  However, because the cabinet top will get more wear with music cases and who knows what else, I applied a second coat there.  After the paint dried and cured 24 hours later, I applied the protective clear coat and switched out the door pulls with some discount knobs from our local hobby store (they were two for one and only cost me $5).

We are already using the piece to an extent.  Piles of music as well as the boys’ music bags live inside the half finished cabinet.  And, as I’d suspected, the viola has found a nice resting spot on top while the cello comfortably leans against the side.  Once the cabinet is completely done, I’ll have to pull out my designer’s wand and find some cool mirrors or artwork to hang above it.

 

 

fowl friends

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Last week, I was washing something at the kitchen sink and gazing out our window towards the chicken yard.  At first glance, I thought I saw Ping, one of our Blue Swedish ducks, at her feeding trough in the backyard.  (For newbies here, we named our birds which we obtained last year based on a children’s literature theme and Ping is named after the classic by Marjorie Flack).  I did a double take, though, when I realized that the head was too small!  And it was green, not black.  Sure enough, a closer look confirmed that a foreign fowl was in the yard.  And not one, but two.  A pair of Mallards had landed and were helping themselves to free food.  We honestly thought it was a passing phase.  Since we live near the Colorado River and the Connected Lakes, we have the amazing privilege of seeing a lot of birds around here.  We figured they were passing through and had made a pit stop.  Well, the pair probably decided that free food and a safe, though relatively tiny, pond were hard to beat.  Since Monday, they have showed up in the mornings and hang out with Ping and Jemima until dusk when they take flight towards the Connected Lakes.  By Tuesday afternoon, our girls decided that it just might be alright to let these foreign fowl swim in their pond.  And, finally, this morning they were all quacking together.  Favorite fowl friends indeed.

swooning over VMD furniture chalk paint

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Thanks to a dear California friend, I am now officially enamored with Vintage Market and Design’s furniture chalk paint.  The gesso, chalk and water based paint is tinted with natural earth pigments and thus has low VOCs, no toxins, and no odor.  Whats not to love?  And, the fact that I have little or no prep work for refurbishing wood, metal, glass, rigid plastics, and even fabric certainly makes it swoon-worthy in my book.  And, to top it all off, VMD is much cheaper than its competitors and has 75 colors to choose from.

After seeing some amazing photos of my friend’s refurbished thrift store furniture, I decided back in the Fall that a low risk project was due.  Our kitchen still has its original 1980s pantry doors which, to say the least, were looking quite sad.  Beyond sad, really.  I figured that if using the VMD paint on them was a flop that it wouldn’t be a tremendous loss.  We could eventually get new doors.  The prep work, if you even want to call it that, was a cinch.  All I had to do was to mix 2 parts Dawn Dishwashing Liquid, 1 part vinegar and 2 parts warm water and then wipe down the doors.  In order to add a pop of color to our mostly neutral kitchen and to coordinate with my inexpensive handmade art work above the pantry, I chose VMD’s Barn Door (which also nostalgically reminded me of all of the barn door red paint I’d used back in Montana to paint our, um, barn doors!)  After two coats of paint followed by the Clear Coat sealer, the doors were done and certainly improved.   Viola!  Now I’m slowly working on hacking an old cabinet I found at Goodwill so that the Sprouts will have storage for all of their sheet music.  Stay tuned for updates!

 

"before": showing your pantry can be as embarrassing as revealing a messy closet!

“before”: showing your pantry can be as embarrassing as revealing a messy closet!

base coat

base coat

as with any home project, painting the doors snowballed into a complete pantry makeover...I finally labelled my whole food bulk items, and bought cheap racks and baskets at a local discount store to further organize the space.

as with any home project, painting the doors snowballed into a complete pantry makeover…I finally labelled my whole food bulk items, and bought cheap racks and baskets at a local discount store to further organize the space.

I love how the paint coordinated with my fabric art from our quilting store back in Montana (don't you just love those funky chickens?)

I love how the paint coordinated with my fabric art from our quilting store back in Montana (don’t you just love those funky chickens?)

in case you're wondering about the hanging object to the left of the pantry, those are my "prosperity hens" made by a women's cooperative in India....

in case you’re wondering about the hanging object to the left of the pantry, those are my “prosperity hens” made by a women’s cooperative in India….

the jury is out...VMD is absolutely swoon worthy!

the jury is out…VMD is absolutely swoon worthy!

spring fling

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This may or may not be monumental to my Southern California friends, but out here in Colorado spring has sprung!  Yes, really.  Friends from the Midwest and Montana know how riveting this is.   In contrast to our families back East who are braving winter storms, we have had warm days sometimes in the 50s and 60s.  This is the warmest February our family has experienced since leaving SoCal almost a decade ago.  Folks, that’s huge!  Over the years, February has become my least favorite month so I can tell you I’m doing a little happy dance over here in the high desert of Colorado.

The daffodils are blooming and there are green sprouts everywhere.  We even have new baby chicks!  A friend here has connections with a family hatchery in Texas and we got three Rhode Island Reds and three Easter Eggers from her.  Last year, we went with a children’s literature theme for both the chicks and ducklings.  This time we went for a floral theme (well, with the exception of Miss Cluck Cluck due to my eldest child’s insistence!).  So, we are thrilled to welcome Violet, Chrysanthemum, Daisy Mae, Miss Rosa (named after the flower and Rosa Parks), Miss Cluck Cluck, and Daffy (short for Daffodil).  Both breeds are specifically egg layers versus the dual purpose birds we got last year, so our hope is that egg production will increase enough to sustain our own Sprouts as well as to have extras to give away to neighbors and friends.  We are also very curious to see what colors of eggs the Easter Eggers lay: blue, green, light pink, or brown?  Getting chicks early will also make our lives easier since they will obviously be more mature and easier to care for by the time we begin our spring and summer travels.  Now in the meantime, if we can just avoid a late spring snow storm….

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brainstorming for names

brainstorming for names

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one chick's name was inspired from this book

one chick’s name was inspired from this book

black Friday

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Instead of fighting the crowds to frantically purchase more stuff, I’m pleased to say that our family spent Black Friday up on the Grand Mesa hunting for a Christmas Tree.  With a permit costing us less than $10, we trekked through the snow to find a perfectly imperfect Douglass Fir.  We all had a blast and even had a picnic lunch in the snow at a nearby campground (leftover turkey sandwiches, of course!).  This was our second year of hopefully many spending our Black Friday together in a more mindful and peaceful pursuit.  Let the holidays begin!

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the aliens have landed

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One of the most challenging aspects of keeping backyard chickens in this region is dealing with the weather.  In the high desert, we have scorching summers but we still get snow and colder temps in the fall and winter months.  (For example, last week we were at 17 degrees!)  Thankfully, our converted rabbit hutch has been great for our micro flock so far.  The openness allows for a lot of air circulation and allows our ladies to stay cool during the warmer months.  To insulate it for winter, we decided to try an idea posted by Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont.  Instead of using TechFoil, however, we went with the less expensive Reflectix at Home Depot.  It doesn’t insulate as well since it has only one bubble layer (foil-bubble-foil), but then we will not get as cold as upper Vermont either.  In fact, I hear from a local meteorologist that we are expecting a mild winter this year.

The challenge with covering our coop versus the hoop coop in Vermont is that we had to essentially cut out a pattern to fit the coop.  It wasn’t a quick fix to be sure.  And, when we began to construct the insulating cover two weekends ago, we were racing against time as as an impending cold front was on its way.  At first, we tried to staple the strips of insulation but the staples didn’t hold.  Reflectix sells a special tape and we ended up using that instead.  Flaps were cut out to allow access to the coop doors and we are experimenting with velcro strips to secure them at night.  There is still some tweaking to do, but at least our feathered friends are staying warm at night!  We also finished piecing the covering together just as the rain began to fall that weekend. Whew!

So how did the girls take to their atomic chicken coop?  Initially, they were quite hesitant, but as the temps dropped and the rain began to fall that first evening, they were at least smart enough to take the risk of entering the coop to stay dry.  Now, they don’t seem to mind it a bit.  And, as much of an eye sore as it is right now, our neighbors politely say they haven’t even noticed it.  The plan eventually, however, is to cover the foil with some sort of fabric.  Or, we may have to re-use the Reflectix on wood panels next year if this idea doesn’t pan out.  Its all a grand experiment to be sure.

And the ducks?  They are happily abiding in their cedar house which is now insulated with hay bales flanking three of the exterior walls.  We also insulated the door with Reflectix.  All in all, our entire flock seems warm and toasty for now.  We are not looking forward to disassembling the insulation this spring, however.  I’m glad that we have a few months before tackling that chore!

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