Sunday, May 25, 2014

Chicks Move to Chicken Tractor

Last week, I wrote an entry about the "chicken tractor" that Tom was building.  I think that is a funny name for the contraption, but that is what these movable pen/coop combinations are called.  Whatever we end up calling it, it is finished and we have moved the chicks from their pen in the garage into it.  

The first step was to move the contraption to a suitable location.  Tom used the Gator to move it.  

He attached a chain to each side of the frame and hooked the chain to the Gator.

Next, we used our dog crate to hold the chicks and hauled them to their new home again using the Gator. (How did we ever do without this vehicle before we got it last fall?)

The chicks weren't very happy with being caught and stuffed in the crate, but they were a little reluctant to come out once we opened the door.

Before long, though, they ventured out to explore their new home.  First one came out and then more of them followed.

It didn't take them long to find their food . . . 

and water.

They are in a nice shady place under a pecan tree near the house.  

We will move them to a fresh patch of grass every couple of weeks throughout the summer.  Our plans are to leave them in the chicken tractor until the weather cools in the fall and they are fully grown.  Then, we'll put them in with our first flock of chickens we bought 2 years ago.  

Sometimes I go out to the pen and just sit and watch them.  I find them fascinating.  I think they find me rather fascinating too because they come over and check me out whenever I go out there.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Chicken Tractor

The chicks are fully feathered now and ready to move out of the pen in the garage where we've been keeping them since they outgrew their brooder tub.  Here's what they look like now.  I'm  guessing they might be what you'd consider early teens in human years.

A "chicken tractor" is a movable pen with an enclosed box (coop) built into one end of it that serves as a roosting and nesting area.  It is not quite finished in this picture, but enough so that you can see what I mean.

There are I-bolts on each corner of the bottom frame on the front where a chain will be attached allowing us to move it to different locations using the Gator.  The front pen will be totally covered with chicken wire.  The pen is tall enough for us to stand upright in and there is a gate to allow easy access.  Here's a better picture of the gate.

There is a little hinged door that lifts up to allow entry to the coop and a ramp leading up to this opening.  We will close the door and secure it at night to ensure no chicken-eating critters can get in if they were to dig under the pen frame.

The back side of the coop also has a hinged door we can lift to get to the eggs in the nest boxes.  Here it is closed.

Here it is open.  The nest boxes are the 3 partitions in the middle and will look more "cozy" once they have some shavings in them.

The floor inside is covered with a stiff wire mesh that will allow droppings to drop through to the ground and make for easy cleaning.  But, at the same time, the wire is strong enough to keep predators out.

Tom should be finished with it in the next couple of days and we'll move the chicks into their new home.  I anticipate they will stay here until the weather starts cooling this fall when we will move them in with our old girls.  I've been reading about the problems that can occur when new chickens are introduced to established flocks.  Apparently, there really is something called a "pecking order" that has to be worked out between the hens.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it is not a long process and that nobody gets hurt!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Simple Salad

The spring rewards us with lots of yummy salad greens and we try to make the most of them because, all too soon, they will be gone due to the arrival of hot weather.   

Tom plants a mixture of lettuce seeds that consists of 5 different varieties.  Here's a picture of what a typical bed looks like.  Sometimes we broadcast the seed in a raised bed like this.  Other times, Tom plants them in rows out in the field.  Either way, the different lettuces grow together in tight formation.  To harvest, we simply take scissors and cut off all except about an inch of the plants.  The leaves will regrow from the base of the plant.  You can do this about 3 times.  This is called "cut and come again" harvesting.

Once harvested, I wash the mixture, drain it in a colander and lay it on a kitchen towel to dry.

I generally add some extra ingredients, depending on what is in season.  In the picture below, you see a sample of what I recently put together to make a salad.  The lettuce mixture is on the left, next is some baby arugula, then some chives and finally on the right is a sprig of parsley.  The parsley can be over-powering in taste, so I only add a little.

Mix these together, top with shaved turkey, a boiled egg and some grated cheese. 

Top with your favorite dressing, and, there you have it, a quick, easy supper.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Henbit and Deadnettle

A few weeks ago I wrote a note about my stirrup hoe:   Stirrup Hoe

At that time, I was using it to clean henbit out of one of my raised beds.  Henbit is one of those spring weeds that comes up everywhere.  It has these small lilac colored flowers that can make whole fields look like they have been painted purple.  I have spent most of the spring pulling this weed out of my garden.

At one point, I noticed a plant that looked like henbit, but the leaves where slightly different.  Here is a picture to illustrate what I mean.

The plant on the left is henbit.  The plant on the right is the mystery plant.  I realized that I'd been seeing this plant all spring thinking it was henbit.  Was this just a variation of henbit or was it a totally different plant?  Now my curiosity was aroused and I went on a mission to try to discover the identity of this new plant.

I've found a Facebook group called "Oklahoma Wildcrafting".  This is a great group composed of folks from all over the state.  Many of them are experts on identifying plants.  I have learned a lot just by lurking in this group.  So, my first action was to post a picture of the plant on this group's Facebook page.  And, sure enough, someone answered my post within a couple of hours.  

The plant on the right is called "Purple Dead Nettle".   After I had the plant identified, I looked it up on the Eat the Weeds website.  Here's what it had to say about the two plants: 

"Henbit can sometimes be confused with Purple Dead Nettle which is also edible. The difference in the two can be seen in the leaves. Henbit has heart-shaped leaves with big scalloped edges that grow along the entire length of the stem. The Purple Dead Nettle (dead in this case means not stinging) has more triangular shaped leaves that grow in a big clumps. Both are very nutritious, high in iron, vitamins and fiber. The seeds of the Purple Dead Nettle, Lamium purpureum, (LAM-ee-um  per-PER-ee-um)  have antioxidants and presumably the L. amplexicaule would as well."

So, there you have it folks, a bit of plant identification minutia that I'm sure you were eager to know!