Saturday, November 27, 2010

It's not cold until it's below freezing

Rhode Island Reds outside scratching for bugs
During cold freezing weather, egg production and hen comfort will be increased if they have plenty of (non-frozen) water to drink. If you don't have piped water to the hen house, I recommend using 10 qt. galvanized buckets as water'ers. Fill them with warm water and take them out to the hens. Take the frozen buckets from last time back indoors with you. Galvanized buckets are good because plastic buckets split when they freeze and poultry fountains are hard to open when they're partly frozen. Rubber buckets and pans are also good. You can place a tennis ball in the water'er and when the water freezes grab the ball and it will pull the ice sheet off with it.

 Chickens can handle very cold temperatures. Some experts say chickens don’t really start suffering until the temperature inside their coop falls to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. They’ll start suffering earlier if it’s damp inside the chicken house, or if they haven’t adapted to the cold, that's why its not a good idea to heat the hen house.  The hens will be warmer during the day if they exercise. They'll be warmer at night if they go to bed with a crop full of grain. The two can be combined by putting a thick layer of loose hay or straw in their pen and scattering a light feeding of grain in the morning and a heavy feeding of grain in the afternoon. Around the turn of the century it was common to have a "scratching shed" attached to the hen house, which was a substitute for range during the winter. The scratching shed was usually open-fronted (that is, walled on three sides only, with chicken wire on the fourth side), with a thick layer of loose straw on the floor. Grain is fed in the scratching shed, which is where the birds get their fresh air, exercise, and sunshine. Always make sure that the girls have a full crop of grain and other nourishment before roosting at night. Birds with existing health problems such as injuries or illnesses or younger less feathered birds may need to be put in different housing arrangements so that they will stay warmer.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Protecting Plants During Cold Weather

Winter weather is upon us and our beloved plants can wither away and die unless we take some precautionary steps. When the weather suddenly turns cold, early-flowering and tender plants may need special protection to avoid damage by freezing temperatures. There are several ways you can provide winter protection, including mulching, moving them into a warm shed or house, or by covering them up.

MULCHING: This is one of the best ways to protect plant roots. Bark, straw, sawdust, peat moss, leaves and even grass clippings are the most common mulching materials. Remove the weeds (if possible) before applying the mulch. As a rule the mulch should be about 2 inches in depth. However, there are exceptions that will be stated a little later in this information bulletin. Keep the mulch an inch or two away from the trunk or main stem of the trees and shrubs. Again, there are exceptions, such as roses and cane berries, where the mulch is actually mounded over the canes. Then when spring arrives, after all danger of frost has passed, these mulching materials are pulled away. Occasionally check through the mulching material, to be sure that moisture is getting to the soil below. This is especially important for plants that are situated under the eaves of the house or under tall evergreens where the soil is likely to dry out. It is important to note, that the combination of dry soil and cold temperatures can cause serious freeze damage to garden trees and shrubs. In fact, in some of the drier areas of the garden, such as under the eaves or under tall evergreens, you may need to water in mid-December or mid-January, if you find the soil dry.
COVERING: This is one of the most effective ways of protecting the foliage of broadleaf evergreen shrubs. Rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas and early flowering plants will often benefit from being covered with some type of cloth material during extremely cold weather. Start by placing three or four stakes around the plant being protected. Next drape some type of cloth material over the stakes, being careful that the cloth does not come in contact and freeze on the leaves. Notice I said cloth material, do not use clear polyethylene for this job, as it not only cuts off air to the plant, it also acts much like a greenhouse, taking plants from nightly lows to high daily temperature in a relatively short time period. This rapid temperature change can cause serious freeze damage or may be fatal to plants.
Any type of covering should only be left in place during the cold spell. As soon as the weather moderates or it begins to rain, remove the covering completely. However, leave the stakes in case it gets cold again.
Burlap, old moving blankets, sheets, Reemay or similar cloth or fabric materials are the best types to use as a cover over plants.

MOVING THEM: This is also another effective way of protecting the foliage of generally all plants that are potted. Move them into a garage, shed, patio or inside your home. Make sure that they receive light during the daylight hours.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Minestrone made with Swiss Chard


  • 1/2 lb. dried large white beans, such as soldier beans, rinsed and picked over, soaked overnight in water to cover by several inches

  • 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 large red onions, peeled, halved, and sliced 1/4-inch thick (about 3 c.)

  • 4 medium carrots, cubed (about 2 c.)

  • 2 large celery ribs, sliced 1/2-inch thick (about 1 1/4 c.)

  • 1 lb. unpeeled new potatoes, cubed (about 2 c.)

  • 3 large garlic cloves, crushed

  • 2 qts. chicken broth

  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

  • 1 lb. Swiss chard, cut into 1/2-inch shreds, stems and all

  • 1/2 lb. small macaroni, cooked (2 1/2 c., uncooked; 4 c., cooked)

  • grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

  • Directions

    Drain the soaked beans and place them in a pot with fresh cold water just to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until tender. This could be as short a time as 30 minutes or as long as an hour. Taste along the way to catch them as soon as they become tender. In a 6- to 8-qt. pot, combine the olive oil and onions over medium-low heat. Let the onions cook, tossing occasionally, while you prepare the carrots, celery, and potatoes, in that order. Add each to the pot as it is ready and toss well to coat with oil.

    Stir the garlic into the vegetables; saute' until you can smell it, about a minute. Add the broth, and pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat so that soup simmers gently, partially covered, for about 1 1/2 hours. Stir occasionally. Stir in the Swiss chard and the cooked beans. Increase the heat and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat again and simmer steadily, partially covered, another 10 minutes. Serve the soup over macaroni with grated cheese on the side. Makes about 5 quarts, serves 8 to 10.

    Advance preparation:
    Prepare as directed up to addition of Swiss chard and beans; the soup can be refrigerated for up to a week and frozen for up to six months. Bring to a brisk simmer before proceeding.

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Its Trimming Time Again

    Pruning trees and shrubs not very more complicated if you follow a few guidelines. You can make cuts that will make your plants grow tall and also provide healthful benefits to them.

    The one-third rule is important to successful pruning. Prune less than one-third of a plant,  this includes grasses, shrubs and trees. The photosynthetic process that produces the plant's food occurs in the leaves. Removing more than one-third of them increases plant stress, making the plant more vulnerable to insect attacks or disease. On branches smaller than an inch in diameter, use sharp shears or loppers and cut about 1/4 inch above a node. Choose to cut at a node that will grow away from the center of the plant and into an area where it won't interfere with other branches. If you want to control future growth in a desired direction, prune above a node facing in that direction.

    When removing long or heavy branches, making three separate cuts prevents tearing the bark at the base of the branch. Make the first cut an undercut about a foot or more out on the branch and nearly halfway though the branch. Secondly, cut off the weighted end of the branch a few inches farther out and all the way through. Then, remove the remaining stub with the final cut. Be sure to cut just outside the branch collar, which is the swollen joint of the branch where it connects to the trunk. A proper cut outside the branch collar will heal into a symmetrical doughnut shape. The use of pruning paint is not advised.

    The four Ds listed below, if followed sequentially, will help ensure pruning success.

    - Dead. Remove dead or necrotic material. If it snaps when you bend it, remove it.

    - Diseased. Remove branches or leaves that show signs of disease or insect attack, but no more than one-third of the plant. Treat remaining problems in other ways.

    - Disfigured. Remove broken or unsightly branches. Remove branches that are rubbing against one another to prevent damage to their bark or plant cells near the surface.

    - Dysfunctional. Remove any branches that interfere with the plant's fruiting, flowering, appearance or general health. Remove suckers that appear at the base of the plant as vigorous upright growth, especially those below the graft line on fruit trees. Also remove water sprouts, which appear as strong vertical shoots from the plant's branches. Competing or multiple leads in young trees, as well as narrow crotches with small angles of attachment, should also be eliminated. Pruning to increase flowering and fruiting is very species specific. Do your research before pruning.

    Pruning larger trees, especially when it requires a chain saw and a ladder, is best done by a professional.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    Bald and Beautiful - Facts about moulting

    The seasonal decline in egg production occurs when birds go into a condition known as “moult”. Moulting is the process of shedding and renewing feathers. During the moult the reproductive physiology of the bird is allowed a complete rest from laying and the bird builds up its body reserves of nutrients. The provision of new feathers or coat is a natural process, designed by nature to maintain the birds' ability to escape enemies by flight and to provide greater protection against cold winter conditions. Normally, under natural conditions, moulting in adult birds will occur once a year, though it may occur in certain individuals twice in one year, and more rarely only once in a period of two years.


    Pullets go through one complete and three partial moults during its growth to point of lay, after which the mature bird normally undergoes one complete moult a year, usually in autumn although this depends on the time of the year at which the bird commenced laying. Generally complete moulting occurs from 1-6 weeks and partial moulting at 7-9 weeks, 12-16 weeks and 20-22 weeks, and during this latter moult the stiff tail feathers are grown.


    For hens moulting usually begins sometime during March-April and should be completed by July when egg production restarts. The three main factors which bring about moulting are:
    • physical exhaustion and fatigue
    • completion of the laying cycle. Birds only lay eggs for a certain period of time
    • reduction of day length, resulting in reduced feeding time, and consequent loss of bodyweight.
    Eleven months continuous production is expected from pullets hatched in season, so that if a flock of pullets commenced laying in March at six months of age, they should continue laying until the following February, although the odd bird may moult after laying for a few weeks. These few birds however should begin laying again after June 22  and continue in production until the following autumn.

    Pullets coming into lay in June should lay until the following April thereby giving eleven months continuous egg production without the aid of artificial light. Pullets coming into lay in spring (August) should lay well into April (9 months) but unless artificial lighting is provided, most of them will moult during May and June.


    Cessation of laying and moulting indicate that the birds' physical condition is deteriorating, and is therefore unable to support egg production, continued nourishment of their feathers and body maintenance. Feathers contain protein and are more easily grown when laying ceases, because of the birds difficulty in assimilating sufficient protein for both egg and feather production. During the moult the fowl still requires a considerable amount of good quality food to replace feathers and build up condition. 

    Sunday, November 7, 2010

    Wow my hen stopped laying

     I hear it all the time, my hen stopped laying. But armed with some information about a hens laying cycle this isn't such a mystery anymore. A pullet begins laying eggs at 18 to 20 weeks of age. She reaches peak production at about 35 weeks.  Peak egg production lasts about 10 weeks and after that her egg production slowly begins to decline.
    A top egg laying hen’s annual egg production is more than 10 times her body weight. The average commercial battery hen lays about 265 eggs per year, with backyard breeds laying fewer. In most cases, the more exotic the breed, the poorer the egg production.

    All hens will stop laying eggs for a variety of reasons. Different things affect hormone levels, which change the condition of the ovary and oviduct, the organs responsible for egg production. The result of these changes is the cessation of egg production. The most common event that affects egg production is decreasing day length.
    Hens are sensitive to day length, and particularly to the direction in which day length is changing, when it comes to laying eggs. Declining day lengths discourage egg production. It is not unusual for a flock owner to have hens go out of production in the latter part of summer and in the fall because the days are getting shorter. Commercial egg producers avoid this problem and maintain egg production year round by using artificial lighting to give hens a long day length no matter what the season. You can do the same thing if the flock roosts inside a building by keeping lights on long enough to simulate an appropriately long day length. A good rule of thumb is that the total length of light per day, both artificial and natural, should be no shorter than the longest natural day length the hens will experience. Therefore, the amount of artificial light needed will be minimal in summer and greatest in winter.

    Other things that effect egg laying are disease, broodiness, poor nutrition, and stress. But even under the best circumstances all good things must come to an end.

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    Keeping Your Hens Warm in the Winter

    Chickens don't mind the cold but they do mind draughts and the rain at night so these are a top winter priority for them. The chicken coop, or house, should be tight enough to keep the cold wind from blowing through the walls. I recommend that all four walls made of wood. Ventilation should be above head height and there should be no draughts coming through the coop. The waterproofing needs to be checked and any areas that are dripping water into the housing need to be sealed quickly. Wood should be used for roosts and should never be made of metal poles or plastic.

    Wood roosts will help to keep your hens feet warm whereas metal or plastic will stay cold all the time and cause their feet to become too cold. Imagine stepping on a sheet of tin with your bare feet in the winter and then having to remain there for hours. Some sort of litter such as straw should be used inside the coop and around the coop. This will help by keeping the hens feet off the frozen ground while they scratch around during the day. The entrance to the coop will become muddy and frozen if no bedding is put down. This can make the hens reluctant to come out during the day. Keeping the straw clean is extremely important. Check it daily, rake out and replace when it becomes soiled or wet.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    Merlin Falcon - cruisin for a chick

    Every morning without fail my little buddies are out there flying overhead, looking at the chickens that are now biggern' they are, The Merlin Falcon, Falco columbarius has a 24 to 27 inch wingspan and a 12 to 13 inch body. 

    My free rangers are alot bigger now so the Merlies fly overhead and contemplate but realize the match is over for them. They still get very close actually landing on the ground near the pullets but my dog Cody chases them off. They return soon and browse the deli aisles of my homestead still hoping to find a weak link. A month ago they did nab a few when they were smaller. I was upset but realized that they have to eat too. I keep my small chickens penned up now until they are big enough and smart enough to stay out of the talons of the falcon. Merlins are actually cute birds. The males upperparts are slaty blue, purplish, or dark umber-brown streaked with black from the crown to shoulders and back. The tail is barred by dark umber-brown or blackish bands and is tipped in white. Underparts are cream to a rich buff with heavy longitudinally streaks of dark umber-brown or black coloration, except for the throat which is an unmarked white. The sides of the head are bluff with fine darker streakings. The forehead and line above the eye is white. The beak is bluish horn; the cere and feet are chromo yellow; the claws are black; and the iris is deep brown. The females are similiar to males in markings, the distinction from the male sex lays within the coloration. Her upperparts are dark brown, the neck is streaked with lighter brown and the tail is banded in yellow bars with a white tip. The merlin preys mainly on small birds of the ground and low vegetation such as small chickens, larks, swallows, and finches. They also eat small mammals such as small rabbits, rats, mice, and lizards, snakes, insects, and dragonflies. The relative proportions of the food are about 80% birds, 5% mammals and 15% insects. Merlin’s usually breed in areas that contain marshes, oaks, cedar and mesquite and enjoy open areas since it is easier to spot prey. 

    Merlin falcons have genealogy that traces back as far as five million years ago and today still have a broad population leading them to rank at the bottom of the endangered list with the status of ‘least concern.’  They are considered to have the most in common with the red-necked falcon due to their similar hunting habits but do not share much in common when it comes to overall appearance.