Baby Chicks Grow Up – Part Two

Mama

Mama Hen with chicks foraging.

Now a couple of months old, the quartet of chicks is exploring farther afield. After the cold and snowy introduction to the outside world in late March, they readily follow Mama Hen outside.

Mama protects them inside from the other hens by cornering the chicks and standing literally in front of them, screening them from the others who get too close. Outside, Mama clucks and calls the chicks over for food and again, warns off the adults with a serious sounding tone and lunge toward one that may get too close to the chicks or be aggressive toward them.

 

Roost

Mama hen with four chicks on roost.

The chicks learned how to fly up onto the roost with Mama and she mightily shelters them at night. We were worried the first few nights in April when temperatures fell to 11 degrees.  But, they did OK.

 

 

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Texas Drawl in Alaska

You know Steve Brown is from Texas right away. Vernon, Texas, to be exact. Home of the Red River Valley Museum, that features native sons trombonist and singer, Jack Teagarden and singer-songwriter, Roy Orbison.  Brown’s drawl and easy manner draw you in. But, there is something else in his voice – maybe a hint of an Eastern clip? Perhaps a touch of wry Midwestern humor?  And, what about the creative way he describes raises chickens in the north?

Technology and Tinkering

All of these are part of Dr. Stephen Brown who has lived, studied and worked in Upstate New York, Kansas, and now Alaska.  “I grew up raising chickens since age eight,” he stated. “I love the soap opera of the coop,” he added. An engineer and self-professed “tinkerer” Brown is smart, innovative and ambitious. Above all, he is good with people. Pretty important qualities since he is District Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension Service Agent for the Mat-Su/Copper River District of Alaska. He integrates his specialties of Global Positioning System (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) with agriculture and the environment.

He applies his advanced degrees in Environmental Sciences from the University of Texas at San Antonio and the State University of New York, and his numerous publications and presentations practically for those living in the far north.

As Alaskans learn to raise poultry, till the soil, and ward off predators Brown is right with them. “I get to remote homesteads by boat, airplane and snow machine,” he said.  “I may be the only extension agent in the country with reimbursement mileage for a snow machine,” he quipped.

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Chickens Up North

It may seem odd for a bird that evolved in tropical Southeast Asia to thrive up in the frigid north but increasing numbers of people are enjoying the benefits of backyard chickens in Canada, Maine, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, in Northern Minnesota, and even Alaska.

Although, chickens are hardy and adaptable, raising them way up north requires special management. Among the challenges both chickens and their owners face is frigid temperatures, vastly different day lengths between winter and summer, and the sometimes difficulty of buying feed and supplies in areas far from where chicken culture is common.

Steve Brown, extension agent for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension office, Palmer, AK, has been advocating chicken husbandry in Alaska for many years. He has a flock and regularly helps others acquire and manage birds. It’s challenging but the rewards are many.

Frigid Temperatures

On the roost

Chickens sheltered from the cold.

Everyone knows Alaska is a cold place, so during the long winter hens need a coop that protects them from the wind and predators and moderates the temperature some. Moisture causes chicken manure in litter to quickly generate ammonia so keeping the coop dry is important. Brown uses the deep litter method to keep the coop floor dry and only occasionally warms his coop when temperatures drop really low.

Daylight

Chickens are daytime creatures and in southern Alaska there’s upwards of 17 hours of darkness in the winter. “LED bulbs solve the lighting problem and keep expenses down. Electricity is expensive here, and LED bulbs provide great light while consuming little energy, keeping my costs down,” said Brown. During warm seasons he lets his chickens forage in the yard and also uses a chicken tractor.

Supplies

Nearly all food is shipped to the state, so finding fresh eggs is challenging, but Steve and many others enjoy eggs that come directly from the coop. Fresh eggs sell for $8 a dozen!

Lavender Orpington

Chicks can successfully be shipped to the cold north.

But, where do the chicks come from? “I buy chicks from a company in Texas. They airmail them to me and they arrive in good shape. Usually I buy about 100 chicks, raise them for several weeks and sell most of them to other families who want chickens using Alaskas List, like Craig’s List. I keep a small flock at my home,” he said.

Feed and supplies are hard to come by in Alaska and expensive. “I don’t buy grit but collect sand and small pebbles from a nearby river bank, and I feed my chickens a lot of kitchen scraps, dog food, and fish scraps. Sometimes fishy taste gets into the eggs,” he said.

Brown sticks with hardy brown egg laying breeds which stand the cold better than Leghorns. “I like Chanteclers, Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks, and Orpingtons,” he said. 

Continental Climate Chickens

Chicken Tractor

Chicken Tractor

Another family that raises far north chickens is Paul and Karen Colson. They probably raise the most northern flock in the contiguous United States. They live in Minnesota’s Northwest Angle. The Angle is a relatively small area bounded by the Lake of the Woods and Manitoba. To reach it, a driver must enter Canada, drive NE about 40 miles, and then reenter this remote part of the United States. Like Alaska, nearly all supplies must be hauled in a long distance.

The Colsons raise broilers and keep a small flock of laying hens. Although not as far north as Alaska they face the same challenges of cold, day length, access to supplies, and predators as Brown does and manage their chickens in a similar way.

No place is really too far north to keep chickens. It takes more time and work to keep hens healthy in a harsh climate but the fresh eggs and meat they provide make it worthwhile.

Baby Chicks Grow Up

 

We’ve had fun allowing the California White to brood and then raise four chicks we placed under her one night. She’s been an attentive Mama showing the chicks how to eat, accept new foods, and forage outside in the snow.

Each evening she tucks them into her feathers and keeps them warm.

Here are some pictures from March. Go to Winding Pathways You Tube for short videos of the Mama Hen and chicks.

 

Geese Families

Goose couple

Geese mate for life.

“Loose as a goose” is an apt expression. Many people dislike Canada Geese for their habit of depositing droppings on trails and lawns. Despite their mess geese are intriguing birds, especially if they are carefully observed. We enjoy watching them all year and love the goose music they treat us to as they wing over our home at Winding Pathways.

Young Canada Geese form pair bonds early in their lives and have high fidelity to their mate for what can be a long life together. Urban geese enjoy an enviable lifestyle.   They eat lawn grass and insects common in town and also snack on grain dropped from railroad cars and an occasional dying gizzard shad. Food is plentiful, and few predators pester adult geese. They have plenty of time for loitering and often socialize and rest with the flock in the shade on hot summer days or in the sunshine when the temperature is cool.

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