The frost settled in heavy a few mornings back though thankfully warmed up nicely in the afternoon. My young Welsummer pullets (and five roosters) seemed to be in awe or shock at their surroundings. Or maybe they are just frozen! Naw, it wasn’t really that cold.
Having the chickens stay in the garden for the winter is a win-win-win. They have lots to scratch in, i can throw all kitchen scraps out there and they bury it or eat it, plus they poop a lot adding tons of manure nutrients to the soil. However, to prepare the ground for winter grazing, about mid-summer i allow grasses to grow unencumbered so they are mature and lay over by the end of the growing season.
Do i get some more layers or not? Like dairy cows, chickens require daily attention and in some seasons of life, we simply don’t want or need to be tied to daily chores, especially considering that farm chores often will not be covered by someone else. When i finally decided to go ahead and order for late summer/early fall shipping, COVID 19 hit and apparently everyone in the country thought homesteading was the only thing to save them! In other words, all the hatcheries were suddenly sold out with no idea when they would have more inventory. So, i waited and waited and checked Cackle Hatchery website over and over. Did research on alternative heritage breeds and at long last they had Salmon Faverolles. I had no experience with them, but what the heck. So i put the number of chicks in my cart and waited and considered another week – just to make sure i really wanted to raise more layers to take the place of my nearly 15 month old Welsummers hens come next spring.
That extra week was all it took! Voila! The Welsummers were once again available, so i switched out and took them. Now i see the Faverolles are sold out. Maybe another year for them.
Cackle Hatchery sent me a ship date and on that date, they sent a time of shipment, i called our postal service in Laclede early afternoon so she could message the Linneus post office that chicks would likely arrive early in the morning and would they call me so i could go pick them. They did arrive overnight and the call came through and i high tailed it up to get them. (Our two small town post offices share hours for the day, ie Linneus is open in the morning, Laclede is open in the afternoon)
Of course, i had already set up their housing and was ready for them with chlorine free water and feed. For housing, i just pull two cardboard boxes together and cut a hole in the sides. I plugged in the heat lamp before i headed to town, having already checked out that the area where the chicks would congregate would warm to 99F. I use cardboard boxes so i can simply burn them once i move the chicks to their larger outdoor living quarters when they are older.
Daughter, Jessica, noticed a spider in the shower, so wanting to get ahead of the curve, i decided to move our Welsummer laying hens to around the house foundation. Thankfully, we finally received some rain, so it was at least doable, though difficult still, to pull the electric fence posts out of the ground.
I move them near dusk so the ladies don’t drift too far from their roosting home and scatter. I can take down the fence and move it, then about the time i’ve set up their new digs, they have filed inside according to their pecking order and i shut the solar electric pop door early and pull the wagon around.
The beauty of having chooks is they can turn over ripe cucumbers into delectable golden yoked eggs.
This is a dorky video, but this young hen wants to be a mommy SO badly, yet she is well behaved and does not peck or bite me when i collect the eggs beneath her, so i thought i’d share with you how a broody hen reacts when disturbed.
If i had a purebred Welsummer rooster, i’d let her lay and set on some fertilized eggs so she could raise some chicks, but i don’t. Of course, these eggs are not fertilized and will never develop embryos. These Welsummers, purchased from Cacklehatchery, are the most entertaining, friendly (though are easily startled), beautiful hens i’ve ever raised. They are excellent layers to boot.
I had a few repairs to make to the eggmobile since its high profile encourages it to be blown over in heavy winds, which we seem to get more of these past few years. I have rigged a way to support it so it doesn’t blow over anymore.
Anyway, collected these few eggs a bit early in the day because it’s a bit wet and muddy and the hens sometimes come into the nesting boxes with muddy feet, soiling the eggs.
It has finally warmed up and i moved my laying hens out of their winter abode in the garden into their new safe haven of a fenced lot in the pasture. I then move them about once a week, depending on forage availability during the growing season. Now, warm weather, sunshine, lengthening daylight, and out on pasture make happy hens lay oodles of eggs.
When i posted these photos on Facebook, one fellow suggested, ‘ Eggs are hard to come by at some of the big city grocery stores these days… you might wanna put those up on Amazon (:’
Given the expense and logistics of shipping a very breakable commodity, it’s just not worth the cost, so i end up giving away extras to people who help me throughout the year and will never accept a payment. Plus, nobody is going to pay what it actually costs to produce them. Springtime provides a lot of eggs, but the supply will dwindle as the daylight hours are shortened and as hens get older. Prime laying is only through their third year of life (max!)
Please know, however, that i don’t just give them away willy nilly (i do like to give them to people who do things for me but will never take payment) because it harms those who are trying to make a living at it. In a similar fashion, when US Aid sends tons of grain as a ‘help’ to other countries, it drives down the market price for the local farmers scratching out a living. Much the same happens here when our markets are opened to meat that is produced overseas for far less than what we can produce it here. Free stuff is never free.
Back home and starting to get settled into regular chores and a few moving ahead projects. Despite coming home to sub zero temps, 1/4 inch ice, and swirling snow, just two days later it is starting to melt and at 33 degrees F (headed to 44F just before dark), it’s not too bad outside.
While i was gone, my silly Welsummer hens began laying – thank goodness – they are about 7 months old and until this past week had laid not one single egg! Apparently, they had not read the book that they are a breed which starts laying at 5-6 months. Granted, i am willing to give them a pass because i did accept them after June 8 (because of Nathan and Heather’s wedding and knowing we would be gone, i didn’t want baby chicks around), so that put them going into the shorter days which is typically when hens start laying fewer eggs. And these gals are truly pastured hens and never on a high powered ration. But when 6 months rolled around, i’m thinking they ought to be laying something! I checked them and most had developed the visible and measurable signs of being mature enough – yet no eggs.
Here’s the lovely dozen eggs i found this morning! In the photo, the lighter colored one is from a purchased dozen of eggs from the store which say they are on pasture. Here’s the interesting part, that store bought egg is considered a large egg yet is very similar in size and weight of these first eggs laid by my hens. In other words, my hens didn’t start with pullet sized eggs, they started in with mediums and larges! And beautiful shell color.
Remember that the color of the shell has nothing to do with the quality of the egg nor does it tell you anything about how the hen was raised. The color of the yolk can be darkened by the ration fed to a caged hen (marigold and/or corn). Anyway, my hen’s eggs were all frozen, so these first ones will have to be thrown away since they could be contaminated because of cracking. But maybe we’ll get some today to collect.
Stay warm and have fun!
Welsummer pullets hard at work keeping spiders and crickets from getting into the house last fall (2019).