There is a lot going on around Willow Creek Farm this week.
It has been quite a tough time with baby chicks this week. The 40 meat chicks arrived in the mail. 5 were already dead on arrival and another 7 died within the first 24 hours. It was very upsetting to have such a huge loss. We expect a small amount of loss – 1 or 2 chicks, but over 25% is crazy!?! We called the hatchery and they said sometimes the box is put in a drafty area during transport and then there is a large amount of death in the chicks. They refunded us for the dead chicks, which we appreciated. But it was really hard to have so many of them die, especially for the kids. We decided that since we were set up to brood 40 (plus the 10 Silkies), and were down to 28 meat birds, we would go ahead and buy some more chicks at the feed store. So we got some more layers – Dark Brahmas, Wyandottes, and Cochins. They are all happily in the brooders with the meat birds. Plus we have the 10 Silkie chicks too.
In addition to the chicks, we have been doing some remodeling of the chicken pens in the barn to manage our chickens better.
We have always kept our roosters with our hens all the time, but no matter what we do the hens end up getting torn up. All the books and advice people give has to do with the ratio of hens to roo or the space they have. But, no matter how many hens there are per roo, the roos always pick a few favorites that get torn up. And no matter how much space they all have, the same happens. We tried hen saddles, but then the hens are much more prone to lice. And they occasionally get tangled and such as well. And even with saddles some tearing up happens anyway. So we have decided to keep the roosters separate from the flock except during breeding. In order to have enough separate pens we decided to remodel the grow pen/broody coop area in the barn to use the vertical space better.
This is what it looked like before…
On the right, where you see the red glow is the broody coop where we let hens set on eggs. It currently has the Silkie chicks in it. And the rest of the area to the left is what we call the grow pen. We use it for housing chickens – mama hens with chicks, growing out small groups of pullets or cockerels, or housing a sick or injured bird that needs to be isolated. The whole space is about 3ft x 11ft (33 sqr ft). But all that vertical space (the pen is about 8 ft tall) is just wasted.
So Mtn Man and Braveheart built Rooster pens in the upper area. The divider is removable to make the pen bigger if needed. Each roo has about 16.5 square feet and will get to join the hens a lot during the spring and summer for breeding. And though it looks dark, when the barn door is open during the day a lot of light and fresh air comes in the back of the pens. They also changed the broody coop/grow pen set up to add a door and ramp from the coop into the pen and we now access the coop from the main barn instead of by lifting the lid inside the grow pen.
We are very happy with the new set up. It will keep the hens’ backs healthier, and we can still easily keep two roosters. We do a breeding rotation using the roo/pullet and cockerel/hen concept so that we can breed with minimal inbreeding but not have to constantly bring in new stock.
I finished the “custom-fit toes” socks I was making for Young Man. I used the Fish Lips Kiss Heel pattern for the heel, and made up the toe section on my own to fit his very steep toe increase. He loves them and says they fit perfectly. So I am really happy about that. I will continue to use my new steep-toe-increase for all his socks so they will fit just right.
I am now working on a baby blanket for a friend’s baby due to arrive any day now. It is super soft and squishy and a shade of purple that I love. The pattern on this is Moss Stitch Diamonds Baby Blanket by Barbara Breiter and the yarn is Deborah Norville Everyday Baby.
I also did a lot of mending this week, specifically patching pants. Little Miss helped me and we were able to patch 12 holes in 8 different pairs of pants. We like to get creative with the girls’ patches. For the boys we just do plain squares/rectangles of denim fabric on jeans. But with the girls we like to do hearts, or flowers and butterflies. And this time we had some khaki pants to patch, but didn’t have any khaki patches, so we used some pretty, flowery fabric.
Patching pants is a necessity for our frugal, single-income lifestyle. Someday I will tell you about how I am able to provide jeans for all 5 of my kids for about $25/year. Yup, I spend about $5/kid for a year’s worth of jeans.
We have continued our work on the garden prep, in between snow storms. 🙂 Because the garden is terraced on a rocky hillside, and much of it is sitting on bedrock with just the depth of the boxes for growing soil, we are working to add depth to each of the sections of beds. We have one section that is much deeper than the rest and was filled mainly with compost from our barnyard. That section grew TWICE as well as the rest of the garden where the boxes are shallower and have a combination of purchased topsoil and our compost. We can’t increase all of them this year all at once, so we are going to work section by section, as we are able, and slowly get the whole garden deeper and full of compost from the barnyard.
Yesterday, Young Man and Sunshine built up the first three sets of boxes. It pretty much doubled their depth. And then they filled them with compost. There are two more boxes that we are going to raise this year, but we are almost done! We are excited to see how the plants do in the better raised beds.
We get to start seeds indoors this week! I have my garden map all done and ready. And I have my garden journal updated and ready for this gardening season. And now we get to start seeds indoors on the light shelves we built! Garden season has officially begun up here in the Rocky Mountains (indoors only, but it still counts). 🙂 The light shelves were easy to build and have been going strong for three years for us so far. We are very happy with them and they make our seedlings start out so much better than just in the window.
That’s the update from here. We are enjoying the end of winter and preparations for spring.