Getting to Know our Chickens: Mottled Orpington

Good afternoon, and welcome to Part Three of my series: Getting to Know our Chickens. I have really enjoyed writing the posts for this series, as I am learning facts about the chickens that I did not know before as well. It is somewhat overwhelming at times how much information is related to each breed, and just how much information is involved in chickens in general. They are quite interesting creatures!

We add Mottled Orpingtons to our flock sometime around February. We initially saw them when we went to pick up some different chickens from another breeder. When we picked up the other chickens, we purchased some eggs and decided to have these pretty babies on our farm as well.

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One of the babies we hatched, April 2019

We love Orpington’s. They are such a good breed of chicken, as far as docility. They are great layers, and will often lay through the winter. The Mottled’s (MO’s) are somewhat a “designer breed.” They are considered a rare breed. They have the fluffier, feathered body style that is well known for Orpingtons, and they have gorgeous black and white feathering.

MO’s are considered a dual purpose breed. I have touched on this before, but dual purpose means they are slow growing, great egg layers, and still good for eating (if you choose to do so) when they stop laying. They do lay a light to medium brown egg.

One thing about the MO’s that is somewhat unique is that a lot of breeders have trouble with fertility in their MO’s. With their fluffy bodies, there are a lot of excess feathers around their vent. This can decrease or completely prevent the amount of semen that makes it to the eggs. Because of this, both hens and roosters must have the feathers around their vent either shaved or plucked.

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Our flock of Mottled’s. We love their gorgeous black and white feathering!

Another tip that we have found with this particular breed, is that two roosters are better than one. We currently have 6 hens, and one rooster. The fertility rates/hatch rates have varied in our hatchings. We will add another rooster soon to hopefully increase our fertility and hatch rates.

In some parts of the world, MO’s are also called Spangled orpingtons. This can get confusing. We have always called our babies Mottled but many in other countries refer to theirs as Spangled. The MO’s were imported to the United States in 1903. They were originally “created” by William Cook. Mr Cook was a skilled breeder, and is responsible for creating multiple Orpington breeds, including Black, White, Buff, Jubilee (speckled), and Mottled (spangled) Orpingtons.

Overall, we are extremely happy with the chickens that we have added to our farm, and I look forward to showing you our other babies in the near future!

 

 

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Building Chicken Coops

To say that I am not a carpenter is a huge understatement. I am quite sure that I have never built anything in my entire life. When B and I first started the idea that we would separate our chicken breeds from the others, we wanted to find a chicken run and house that was simple and cost effective. If you aren’t careful, you can spend a LOT of money on a chicken coop and run.

We decided to do some research on designs that we liked, and proceeded with building our first coop. The first coop we made was supposed to be for full grown birds…. Ultimately it was a failure. At least, it was a failure for what we intended it to be for.

For our design, we wanted to stick to a simple box where our birds could roost for the night, lay eggs, and be sheltered from the weather. The first coop that we built measured 6 feet long, 4 feet tall, and 2 feet wide. We intended for this coop to be split in the middle, and shared between two runs so that two kinds of chickens would share this space. Hindsight is 20/20, and we quickly realized this would not be nearly enough space for full grown birds. Even for the few we planned to have in each chicken run. Along with the design flaw of the first chicken coop, we immediately noticed a couple of things that we wanted to do differently with our second run. I stress again that neither of us are carpenters or builders.. With the run itself, we stapled cattle panels to 2×4’s, and bent them into a “tunnel.” We then attached the board to the back side, attaching our chicken coop to the backboard. We covered everything with chicken wire, and we were done. We recycled a door for the front of the coop, with the idea that this would be our entry and exit into the run/coop.

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Our rudimentary “first try.”

Our second run/coop was a little better. For version 2.0, we put three T-Posts down each side and ran a cattle panel on each side, securing it to the T-Posts. We then put three more cattle panels covered in chicken wire over the top in a “tunnel.” We used wire for the front and back, and then we decided to move our tiny little “first draft” chicken coop over to the second pen. We removed the divider in the middle of this little coop, and viola. We now have a grow out pen for our chicks that we have hatched that aren’t big enough to go with the grown hens but are too big for our brooders. The smaller coop is much more suitable for our smaller chickens in their grow out pen, and we built a new chicken coop for the adult chickens.

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Our second run, under construction.

For our new coop design, we went with a 4x4x6 box for our hens. Each box is plywood, reinforced with 2×4’s for stability. Each coop has a roosting bar inside, and a couple of brooding boxes as well. Some people out a brooding box for each chicken in their coops. We did not do that. Most of the time (almost 100% of the time) chickens will only use one or two of the boxes inside the coop. It was unnecessary to put more than two in each coop for the amount of chickens that we have in each coop.

Now that we have got our design down, we can focus on making minor improvements and adjustments. For example, we will go back to add a better roof for the coops so they last longer. We have looked at a lot of commercial chicken coops, and they are quite costly. Of course it does help that we have a lot of the wire, T-Posts, and cattle panels on hand. A lot of this design was considered because these are the materials we have free access to, simply re-purposing the supplies we currently have.

When looking at commercial chicken coops/houses, we have found them to be way too small and not cost effective at all. A lot of “good” ones cost $200+ and are quite tiny. We love having the ability to play around with our design to make improvements and build houses for our babies with materials that we have on hand.

Getting To Know Our Chickens: Black Copper Maran’s

Good morning, and welcome to “Part Two” of my mini-series, Getting to know our Chickens. I am excited to be telling you what I know about Black Copper Maran’s today.

Maran’s are a popular bird among “chicken people,” and we are partial to the Black Coppers. The reason these chickens are so popular is due to the fact that they are “chocolate eggers.” This means the eggs they lay are deep chocolate brown. This color of egg is highly sought after. Black Coppers (BC’s) are known for laying the darkest brown eggs.

BC’s are good for our farm for several reasons. First of all, they are good egg layers. On average a BC will lay 3 eggs per week, or 150-200 eggs per year. Second of all, BC’s are considered to be a hardy bird during the winter months. The flip side of that, however, is that they are NOT considered to be a hardy bird during the summer months.

BC’s are not considered to be an especially docile bird when compared to other breeds, but they are known for going “broody.” Broodiness is an excellent quality in a chicken. Broodiness is when a chicken will sit on the eggs to hatch them. Broodiness is rare in a lot of chicken breeds, and being a good mother hen is rare as well. Although we do have a hatcher and incubator for hatching our own chickies, it is nice to have hens on our farm who would make good mama hens if we decided to let them hatch naturally.

What we like most about the BC’s is their looks. Traditionally, male BC’s are black bodied with copper feathers around his head and saddle. Females are almost completely black, having only a bit of copper around their heads.

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Our Copper rooster, in with all of his ladies. We currently have him with Copper hens and Ameracauna hens.

BC’s have an interesting history. With a lot of breeds, their lineage is clear. What breeds were mixed to accomplish the final result. With BC’s, the lineage is not that clear. During the 12th and 13th centuries, English ships came to port in French towns. When they docked, the crew would generally release their game roosters who had been victorious in fights. The game roosters would then breed with “swamp hens,” and this was how the original Marans came to be. The local farmers began breeding the offspring with other local birds in the 19th century, selecting for egg size and coloration.

During this time, WWII brought on a steep decline in interest in the birds. Luckily, individual breeders continued breeding and working with Marans. Although BC’s remained popular with individuals, there was not a clear standard for these chickens. In the 1990’s, breeders got together to set clear standards, and there began to be world wide interest in the breed. In 2010 Black Copper Marans were accepted into the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection. They are one of the most sought after breeds, due to their unusually dark colored eggs.

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Black Copper Maran eggs are the darkest eggs you can find. 

Farm Dogs

A few weeks ago, we decided to add a dog to our farm. We thought that a good Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) was in order, and decided between us that we needed a Great Pyrenees. We found someone who had some for sale, and made arrangements to pick up our pup.

On the way to pick up the pup we got to talking, and ultimately decided that we needed two puppies. We messaged the people who were selling us the dog, and luckily she had another puppy available. We got both, Cash and Hank, and brought them home to our farm.

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Hank on Left, Cash on Right

The pups have made a great addition to our farm. They are huge now, and will be huge dogs full grown. Already, they have proven to be a good investment. We have had ongoing issues with our neighbors dog (ND) coming over to kill our chickens. The other night, ND came over. Cash and Hank both went crazy, growling and barking at the ND. He was surprised to see them, and hesitant to come closer to the house. As soon as B opened the door and stepped outside, he tucked tail and ran back home.

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Hank helping us build chicken yards.

Cash and Hank were originally meant to be LGD’s, as mentioned above. I am not sure that they will take up with the cows and stay out with them at this point. They have made the back porch their home at night. This is nice because we have two guard dogs on the back porch, and it keeps our chickens from roosting on the back porch, as they are prone to doing. Cash and Hank are more or less indifferent to the chickens. The first couple of days were rough because the chickens were afraid of the dogs, and the dogs were kind of afraid of the chickens. Now, everything is running smoothly and they are all coexisting peacefully.

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Ever helpful, our pups love to be by our sides.

In the few weeks that we have had our babies, they have proven to be good boys indeed. As soon as we set them free from their cage after the first week, they did an excellent job of letting ND know that he should not be on our property. Although they are still young pups, they are getting quite large and definitely made the other dog think twice about coming after our chickens.

They have gotten used to the chickens, specifically the crows of our rooster. Some of you may know that roosters have several different calls that they will make. One of those calls is an alarm call. The dogs have been around our rooster enough that they can now tell when the rooster is making an alarm call. This morning, for example, the rooster made an alarm call. Both dogs turned their head and were on alert to see what the alert was. Although the alarm call turned out to be nothing, it is still reassuring to know that our animals can communicate like that.

We are excited about the addition of our pups, and look forward to having them around our farm for years to come.

Getting to Know our Chickens: Buff Orpington

When I was writing my last blog post, it occurred to me that I had not really gone into a whole lot of depth on the types of chickens we have decided to keep, and the reasoning for keeping each breed. Sure, I have talked about the breeds we have right now (Chicken Farmer) and I have talked about our Rhode Island Red babies. But I haven’t really taken the time to explain the specifics of each breed, and why these chickens are the best for OUR farm. After talking with B, we decided that a “mini series” about our chickens would be a good idea. Welcome to “Part One” of our series.

Buff Orpington chickens are an English bird, and were first bred in the late 1800’s. Orpington chickens were “created” by a man named William Cook. Cook was breeding several varieties of chicken to get desired traits that he wanted in a chicken. His first cross was the Black Orpington. The Buff orpington was released to the public by Cook sometime between 1887-1894.

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Bryan turning the Buff eggs in our incubator

The Orpington chicken was a popular breed, and was being exported from England within 10 years. They were so popular for their coloring, and they are short fluffy birds with pale orange/brown or “buff” feathers. Buff’s were a favorite breed of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. She had a flock that won several awards for their beauty and grace. However, by 2016, Orpington’s as a whole were on the endangered list. Thanks to small homesteaders with “back yard chickens,” the breed has been removed from the Conservancy list.

Buff Orpington chickens were the first breed that we really decided would be a good fit for us, as far as raising. There are several reasons that we considered the Buffs.

The first reason we decided the Buffs would be a good fit for us is that Buffs are a hardy breed of chicken, which means that they will withstand the harsh temperatures in our climate. This is important to us, as one of the big killers of our chickens this winter was the cold. Our Buffs that we got in late summer have withstood our cold and wet winter this year.

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Our Buff’s socializing with our other chickens

A second reason that we settled on Buff’s is that they are what is called a “dual purpose” breed. They were bred specifically for producing a higher quality of egg, while still maintaining good meat quality. Basically, when they are done laying they will be good for eating. On average, Buff’s lay between 200-280 eggs per year. Their eggs are a nice light brown color. This is important because if we sell these eggs to individuals, most will want a nice brown egg. Most people consider the brown eggs to be a “true” farm fresh egg, although there are chickens who lay white eggs.

A third reason that we settled on the Buff’s is their temperament. Buff’s are known for being good chickens to have as pets. While we don’t exactly intend to keep ours for pets, exactly, this is still a good feature that we want in our chickens. They are docile birds, and do not make or like a lot of noise. The hens are good for raising babies, and typically make good mothers. This is good because a lot of chickens actually DO NOT make good mothers, and will kill the babies when they hatch.

Overall, the Buff’s are a good addition to our farm. They will be a good bird that we can sell the eggs from, and still eat when they are done laying. We will also hatch and sell the babies from our Buff’s.

The choice of which chickens to keep is a tough one, but the Buff’s were a no brainer.

Selling Our First Calves

As we are going in to spring, it is now time to begin thinking about selling our calves. This seems like quite the process to me, but B is a seasoned pro. Every year buying and selling calves is a risk. Last year was an especially hard year because SWMO was in a drought. Luckily, we had enough hay to feed our cows through the winter. That is not always the case, and wasn’t the case for many SWMO cattle farmers this past year.

The bottom line is we got lucky this year. We were in a position where we already had hay put up when we started buying our cows last summer. B had cut the spring hay, and we ended up with a substantial amount. This allowed us to figure out how many cows we could feed for a year with the hay we had on hand. We then proceeded to buy our cows, as a lot of people were selling their cows because they couldn’t feed them adequately through the winter.

Not all years are like this, however. Like I said before, we just got lucky. Even though I would say this year has been a good one for us, we have still lost a few cows. They always say, if you’re going to have cows you’re going to lose some. The loss has also rolled over to our chickens, as many of you may have read in a couple of my other posts. The calves we have lost this year have been to pneumonia. With the rainy and cold weather, the cows have had a hard time staying dry and warm which lead to pneumonia.

The loss has been hard for me to cope with. I wasn’t raised on a farm, and didn’t realize how much work comes along with taking care of the animals. I mean obviously I knew that it WAS work. However, it’s not work that I’ve ever experienced first hand. Losing the cows that we have lost can be stressful, as that is our source of income. The more we lose, the less of a paycheck we get when we do sell our cows.

As we are gearing up to sell our babies, we must decide when is actually the best time to sell them. As we get closer to spring, more people are buying cows and the price is up right now.

We are so glad to finally be seeing spring weather. The cold has really taken its toll on our animals. Even with the spring, we have some last minute complications. With the weather constantly changing, it’s hard to tell how the cows will respond, either with being perfectly fine or needing a dose of antibiotics for pneumonia.

Snow Day on the Farm

As a kid, we all loved getting snow days. School was canceled, and we all got to play in the snow: building snowmen, snowball fights, sledding, etc. As an adult, however, we don’t really get snow days. A few weeks ago we had some bad weather in our area, and I was called off work. My husband, however, was not called off work. On a farm, the work never ends and there is no such thing as a snow day. If anything, there is more work on a snow day.

During the winter, our daily chores include feeding hay and grain to the cows. With our snow days we do typically feed extra hay to the cows, as they can lay in the extra hay and have some kind of warmth and protection from the wet and frozen ground. We have to count and check our cows daily to make sure that none of them are sick or hurt. If a cow gets sick, they can go downhill quickly. It is really important to do the daily checks so we can catch illness immediately. Mineral tubs are important to check daily as well, and refill as needed.

When the temperatures are below freezing, we also have to add chopping water to our list of daily chores. The cows need water, and we usually take a couple of extra hours to chop the top of the water so the cows can get a drink.

Now that we have started adding smaller animals to our farm, there is extra work that comes with that as well. The ducks really like to make a huge mess in their environment. Our daily chores now include cleaning up their messes, and providing them with fresh food and water. We are ready for the ducks to be a little older, when they will be more free range. Even with them free ranging, our daily chores will include cleaning up their messes AND will eventually include roosting them at night.

Our baby chicks are quite the project, making sure they are fed and watered, warm and happy. We happen to have a perfect little place for them in the barn where they are pretty well protected from the outside weather and critters. This helps a lot. With hatching our own chicks it takes longer to get eggs from them since they do not start laying until 5-6 months. However, we are excited with our new adventure of hatching our own babies.

The incubator itself is a daily chore as well. We found a good deal on an incubator that is a manual turner. This means the machine does not turn the eggs for us, so we must check the eggs every 4-6 hours and turn them ourselves. We also check the water levels in the incubator to make sure there is enough humidity for our growing hatchlings. The batch we have in the manual turner right now will be the first batch hatched from this incubator. Up until now we have been using a smaller incubator that only holds 24 eggs. This first batch will basically be our trial and error run.

Our full grown chickens do require daily chores as well, even though they are free range. We have found that when we feed our puppies the chickens will swarm them and eat the dog food. We now feed the chickens at the same time in effort to avoid this. Their water freezes on the cold nights too, of course. Checking for eggs is a daily chore, although our stubborn chickens like to lay their eggs all over the place. Thankfully, we have got most of our chickens roosting in their coop at night instead of on the back porch! B is working on some new coops this week which will give them a lot of space to move around, but they will be more contained and protected from hawks, raccoons, and other predators… (I’m looking at you, neighbor’s dog!)

Even on snow days, a farmer’s chores never end. They are on call 24/7, and the work is always there waiting for the next day.