Red Bucket Farm is an urban farm on a quarter acre property in an average residential neighborhood. We are located in Wisconsin, USDA Zone 5. We focus on chickens, bees, orchard fruit, and raised garden beds for fruits and veggies. We hope to reduce our footprint on the planet by growing some of our food, reducing our use of fossil fuels, and gardening with sustainable practices. Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Chickens in Review

We pause at the end of the calendar year to reflect on the changes at Red Bucket Farm. Specifically, we realize how much fun we've had raising chickens, and how much we've learned about them.

We began the year with four pullet hens about 8 months old. Rosie the Redstar, Hyacinth the Easter Egger, Wisteria the Columbian Wyandotte, and Delphinium the Dominique were our very first chickens. Rosie was a champion egg layer, followed by Hyacinth. Delphinium took a winter vacation between Dec 4, 2010 and Jan 17, 2011, refusing to lay eggs in the darkest part of winter. Wisteria was late to contribute to egg production, but we still managed to gather 73 eggs during January.

February began peacefully, but a terrible cold snap of sub-zero weather nearly took Hyacinth's life. We brought her indoors for a day or so to warm up, but returning her to the flock revealed the extreme bullying behavior of Delphinium. We reluctantly found a new home for Delphinium, who left us on Valentine's Day. Hyacinth took a while to recover from the trauma and didn't lay eggs from Feb. 9-25. Miraculously, we still gathered 61 eggs that month.

In March we fenced in the chicken yard so the girls could spend more time outdoors without our constant supervision. Rosie, Wisteria and Hyacinth produced a whopper 81 eggs that month, which averages to 27 eggs per hen---pretty good considering these are not production birds. At the end of March, we acquired six new baby chicks: Daisy the Delaware, Crocus the Easter Egger, Poppy the Partridge Plymouth Rock, Petunia the Barred Plymouth Rock, Rhoda the Rhode Island Red, and Squill the Speckled Sussex.

April was a hectic month as we tended to the new chicks as well as the mature hens, who gave us 77 eggs for the month. On April 9 we removed the winter wrappings around the coop, and soon realized that it was a bit too soon. The girls survived the chilly month, but we'll be more cautious to protect them longer in future springs.

In May we moved the brooder box from the home office (not recommended!) to the garage. We began the ritual of carrying the chicklets to the yard every morning where we provided a decent day shelter, and then carrying them back up the hill to the garage for secure night shelter. The three hens provided 78 eggs in May, and an additional 74 eggs in June.

In July we removed the fence in the chicken yard which divided the pullets from the hens, and soon after we stopped bringing the pullets to the garage for separate sleeping quarters. It was an awkward transition in spite of weeks of watching each other through the fence. Also, extremely hot weather caused a reduction in egg production, as the mature hens struggled to give 69 eggs for the month.

In August, the pullets began laying eggs. Production increased to 92 eggs for the month. The chickens still lived relatively segregated, with the six pullets flocking together and staying distinctly apart from the three older hens. In spite of the tension between the two flocks, life remained relatively peaceful in the chicken coop. We learned to trim flight feathers to keep the girls inside the chicken yard, mostly for their own protection.

By September, it seemed that most of the pullets were maturing into good egg layers. We collected 151 eggs for the month, but this signaled the beginning of chicken wars as the older hens worked to maintain their pecking order over the pullets. We experienced much more excitement than necessary: Rhoda's left eye was pecked and she lost sight in that eye completely.

Petunia's comb was pecked and wouldn't stop bleeding, requiring a visit to my neighborhood veterinarian, whom I'm certain thinks of me as the Crazy Chicken Lady. We installed new and improved nest boxes to help reduce aggression.

Tension settled down in October, when we gathered 169 eggs. At this point, it became impossible to ascertain which hen was laying which eggs. On Oct. 29 we wrapped the coop in 6 mil plastic to protect them from wind, rain and snow for the duration of the winter. They still have access to the outdoors, but they can wander in and out as they choose.

In early November, we began to witness the beginning of molt season. Wisteria dramatically lost most of her feathers in a matter of a few days. She hasn't laid eggs since early November because the molt takes most of her energy. Hyacinth began to molt a few weeks later. In spite of molting, we still managed to collect 129 eggs for the month.

December has been a mild and quiet month. The girls produced 100 eggs this month. Throughout the year, Rosie the Redstar has been our most reliable egg layer, and she is still clearly the leader of the flock. At the beginning of the year, Rosie rarely took a day off, perhaps once every month or three. Now she takes a day off each week. Although she produces slightly fewer eggs, they have grown to extra-colossal-jumbo size. Our total egg count for 2011 is 1,154.

Although we have no regrets for growing our flock, it seems unlikely that we will attempt to blend two flocks again. The process has been labor intensive and more violent than we imagined. Still, we have loved knowing the personality of each bird, and the reward of growing our own food is significant.

Here at Red Bucket Farm, we're grateful for the blessings of 2011 and we look forward to new adventures in 2012. From our farm to yours, we wish you all the best in the New Year!

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