Salsify Experiment

To start at the end, Salsify tastes a lot like artichoke heart, or Jerusalem artichokes. That was a great relief, as it was called “oyster plant” in Victorian times.

I’d never heard of salsify and so was intrigued when I saw it on the Johnney’s Selected Seeds website. I bought some seeds and planted a short row–only two feet because this kind of thing usually ends in sad plants that hardly produce. The salsify plants came right up and thrived with no sign of disease or insect damage and when I dug them up six months later, there were roots! One caution, I tried a second planting mid-summer and these did not thrive and did not produce at all.

These plants are Mammoth Sandwich Island salsify. Mine didn’t grow as big or uniform as advertised, but that’s to be expected. I planted the seeds on May 15th and dug up roots on November 14th–after a few nights in the low 20s. I’d read that leaving the roots in the ground through a few hard frosts mitigates the horrible oyster flavor. Even so, it was with some trepidation that I processed the roots.

There are several salsify recipes on the internet, but I tried a simple one first so I could tell what the root actually tasted like. A consistent bit of advice is to immediately put cut roots in water with “a little” lemon juice to keep them from turning dark, which they will do far more quickly than potatoes. I did this, but as they were immediately put in water to boil it probably wasn’t necessary.

I cut off the small roots and greens, put the whole roots in a pot of water and boiled until just soft. Then I cooled them under running water and easily peeled off the outer coating with my fingers. Sliced up they look like white carrots. I sprinkled seasoned salt on them and fried them in butter on medium. Unlike potatoes, they sucked up all the butter, so I was glad I hadn’t used very much. When they were browned on the one side, I flipped them for a few minutes and then served.

There was no oyster flavor at all. My husband and I both liked them, and I do appreciate a plant that’s no work–next year I’ll plant a lot more of them. To try to get longer roots, I may dig in some sand.

According to Johnney’s Selected Seeds, what I planted is the ‘classic’ salsify. If you google images of ‘salsify’, you’ll see some of them show black cylinders, long and thin.  Evidently, these black roots are an entirely different plant, also called salsify or more accurately, scorzonera. If you’re interested in these roots, here is a short article on the differences and how to grow them.


The Virtues of Planting Late?

It’s September 23rd, and the world has not ended (yet), and neither has my West Virginia garden. Today, I collected corn and summer squash. Commercial farmers can’t gamble with cold weather, but maybe it’s worth it for the home gardener to set aside some ground to gamble on extending the fresh-from-the-garden season.

This corn was planted on July 5th. Last year, corn planted at about the same time matured much earlier, but this year we had two cold weeks that slowed down its maturation, and there was dry weather when I should have watered it, but didn’t. We’ve never had garden corn this late before; perhaps it is something to try on purpose next year to extend the availability of luscious fresh corn.

This hybrid summer squash (2016, Johnny’s Selected Seeds but they no longer carry it) was planted June 20th in the midst of the first corn patch planted to conserve garden space.  It limped along in shade, fighting weeds, until I harvested the corn sometime in late July or early August. The sad things were weeded and watered and have been producing squash for a few weeks. There are half a dozen young squash on them and the weather outlook is great (I am the only one in the family who eats squash, so this is more than enough.)

Last year there was so much fennel I had to freeze most of it.  Fennel does not freeze well. It lost flavor and was tough, so this year I planted less, twice. The fennel pictured was planted on June 2oth. Next year I’ll try three plantings.

The last tomato was not planted early, but next year I plan to plant one slicing tomato plant one full month after the others. The best thing about this plan is that I’ll be able to sow the seeds directly into the garden, so much less effort.


There is also watermelon maturing, and some Chinese cabbage that was looking good but now looks bug-eaten. I will let you know if either of these works out.

Greasy Back Beans

In 2014 I bought heirloom tomato plants from a man at work, and he threw in about a dozen “greasy back” beans, an Appalachian heirloom. So I planted them. I’ve been saving seeds and planting these beans ever since. Next year they’ll be the only string bean I’ll plant. They’re pole beans; I’m done with bending over to pick beans!  As string beans, they’re plump, meaty and their pods stay juicy over a long period of time. They are not greasy! The “greasy” moniker is because the pods are supposed to look greasy, but I don’t get it.

I’ve tried saving various seeds over the years and marigolds, zinnias and beans have never failed me.  Below is the last harvest of the greasy back beans this year, in their pods and shelled.  Cooking dried and younger beans together is a unique home-garden treat, combining the flavor of string-beans with dried beans. Cook like dried beans with ham and/or bacon, and serve, of course, with cornbread. (The brown beans are Kentucky Wonder. A fine bean, but I don’t believe they’re as good as the greasy back beans in any way.)


To save beans to plant next year, simply set the biggest and glossiest of the dried beans to one side. I put them in a clean, dry pop bottle with no lid and stick them on the book shelf.

A quick search on the internet shows a number of places to buy “greasy beans” and a number of different types. Some are called “greasy back beans” but they don’t look like these. I suspect all greasy beans are similar. If you try them I think you’ll like them.

It’s Time to Plant Garlic!

Planting Garlic Update (2/20/17) — so far so good!


At least I think it is.  One rule of thumb is plant garlic on Columbus Day, another is after a few frosts, and I went with Rule No. 2 given this year’s long and balmy fall.  The first frost last year was mid-October, and this year was on November 11.

These are Russian garlic cloves and bulbs (a hard neck variety) that I bought from the Enon Valley Garlic Company at the Seven Springs, PA Mother Earth News fair.  I picked them because they were midway in terms of hotness, and mostly because the cloves were very large, which will make processing the cloves much easier as I use them.  The selection at the MEN fair was much larger than on the Enon Valley website.


The Enon Valley website has planting instructions and I based this effort on them.  My raised garden is made up of rotted wood chips, and the parsnip harvest showed that better drainage is needed for some root crops, and garlic needs well draining soil, so I mixed in a little sand and set the garlics in place on top of the natural level of my garden.  The garlic should be spaced so that when the bulb grows to maturity there will be 2″ between finished bulb.


I dug a ditch around the garlic to help with the drainage, and mixed the dirt from the ditch with some sand.  Maybe 10% sand; maybe less.  Then I shoveled this on top of the garlic.  I added about 2″ of partially decomposed chips, and then about 2″ (pressed down) of hay, followed by chicken barriers — since the chickens have the run of the garden in the winter, and since they destroyed my garlic last year.

dscn1224     dscn1226

The idea behind planting in the fall is that the roots will grow and get a head-start in the spring leading to stronger plants and bigger bulbs, but care must be taken to not let the plants grow too much before winter comes, thereby expending too much energy only to die.  This is what happened to my garlic last year.  Hopefully I waited long enough!

Growing and Cooking Parsnips

two-fat-ladiesI loved watching the Two Fat Ladies, and if you like cooking and have not watched their shows, give them a go.  The show ended when Jennifer Paterson died of lung cancer (she smokes quite a lot on the show), but while she lived, hers was a colorful and joyous existence.  One of the things they cooked on their show was parsnips.  I had heard the word, but had never taken a bite of one.  I bought some, tried Jennifer’s recipe, and it was good.  I have tried cooking them other ways, and not so much.

The recipe from Cooking with the Two Fat Ladies, snapped from my book, is at the bottom of this post.  Yes, there is a lot of cream and butter (they are fat, duh).

This is the second year I grew parsnips, and they seem to be easy to grow.  Make a groove in the dirt, put the seeds in it, cover it up and up they sprout.  Thin them after a few weeks to about six inches per plant, and then just wait for fall to pull them up.  I had a single ten-foot row of parsnips and harvested 5.5 pounds of parsnips.  Parsnips cost $2.68/pound at Wallmart so I saved $15.  Whooo hooo!  But the flavor is better out of the garden, and they are very easy to grow so I’ll keep planting them.  If you want to grow them, the soil should be loose, and well draining.  The rotted wood chips I use in my raised bed garden held too much water (especially problematic this year) and some roots had started to rot a little.  Also, to improve their flavor, they’re supposed to be harvested after a frost or two.  I harvested early this year because I saw new and vigorous mole activity in the garden, and they tasted great anyway.

Whether bought in the store or pulled from the ground, they will have to be washed, skinned and cooked so the effort isn’t very different.  I did these chores for all of my parsnips at once, and then froze them in chunks in freezer bags:  2.5 cups per bag.  The parsnips coming out of the garden certainly had more interesting shapes than those out of the store, which are usually shaped like fat, poorly proportioned carrots.  Sometimes out of the store they are woody — this has never happened out of my garden.  When I buy parsnips I avoid the very fattest ones since they’re the ones most likely to be woody.

dscn1104 dscn1106 dscn1108

The recipe I use is very similar to the Jennifer Paterson’s:

  • Toast a slice of bread (doing this first allows the toast to dry out).
  • Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
  • Put 2 tablespoons of butter into an oven-proof cup and add 3-5 garlic cloves or ramp bulbs (to taste) and microwave until soft.  Coarsely chop the vegetables first.
  • Put the following into a food processor and blend until uniform:
    • Butter and vegetable mix
    • 2.5 cups cooked, cubed parsnips
    • 1/3 cup cream and 1/3 cup milk
    • pinch fresh nutmeg
    • salt & season to taste
  • Taste blended mixture and season as needed.  Add 2 oz chopped ham (small pieces).  Put in a small casserole dish and spread out flat.
  • Break toast up into pieces and turn to crumbs using a small food processor or blender.  I sometimes add pecans and blend them with the toast.  Add salt and seasoning as desired and a drizzle of olive oil.  Blend briefly and spread the crumbs evenly over the top of parsnip puree and gently press down.
  • Bake for about 45 minutes; check in 1/2 hour.  Pull out when nicely browned.


Below is Jennifer Paterson’s recipe:




2016 Honey Harvest Part 1

The bees and I have a complete understanding:  they don’t want me in their hive; I don’t want to mess with their hives.  I do so loathe harvesting honey.  Sitting, encased in my bee suit, staring balefully off into space, waiting while my beloved partner (with the necessary muscles and nerves) fiddled about.  He said, “You don’t look very happy.”

“I hate this.”

“I can tell.”

“Sweltering, while you fiddle.”

“No screaming or carrying on.  You be calm.”

We’ll see I thought, we’ll just f-ing see.

It turns out I was able to do as advised, and maybe because of being advised ahead of time, though I don’t intend to admit that.

Many bee keepers go into their hives several times a year.  They’re rather smug about it, but I think they’re mean.  Do the bees want them in there?  No!  We go in once a year, unless to split a hive, which I guess (blast it!) we’ll have to do next year.

dscn1078This year we had two hives that needed tended to.  One was a very vigorous hive, and we harvested two supers of honey off of it.  By commercial standards this is pitiful, but it’s good enough for us.  We left over a super and a half of honey on the hive, which is more than enough to feed them over the winter.  We found a lot of webby stuff smeared at the bottom of the hive, and scraped it off.  As is typical, the bottom super was mostly empty and full of dark, nasty looking comb.  Professional bee keepers re-use this, or did, but I put it under the oak tree for nature to deal with for a month or so before I scrape all of the frames clean.

The picture to the left is our harvest, the bottom super being empty.  It’s set up so bees can leave, but not come back.

The other hive almost died this summer and then — unexpectedly — rallied.  The queen must have died.  Then, either a swarm took over the hive or the hive turned a young egg into a queen.  I think it’s most likely the latter, since the population ramped-up rather slowly, and we didn’t see any swarms.  I didn’t expect to take any honey off of this hive, and did not.  The bottom super was removed to the oak tree.  The bottom of the hive had a puddle of water since the stand had tilted, so we shimmed it up to stop that.  Excess water in the hive is very stressful to the bees.

For both hives I scraped out the large twigs that propped up the lid to allow for moisture escape, and replaced with smaller ones since winter is coming.  There were no hive beetles or wax moths in either hive.  I did find one desiccated body that looked like a bumble bee, poor thing.

dscn1077I was not stung once, and I am smug about that.  I use redundant systems, that is, nylon sweat pants, long sleeve T-shirt and a full body bee suit.  Last year at the Mother Earth News Fair I saw the bee suite of my dreams at the Mann Lake booth.  No, really.  Most bee suites are made of tightly weaved cotton so the bees can’t get their stingers through it.  Once I got so hot in one of these, sweat running down into my eyes stinging so I could barely see, that it took half an hour in a cool shower for me to feel normal.  I think I was close to serious overheating.  And I thought, what if instead of blocking the stinger, one were to make a kind of overlapping mesh, thick enough so the singers could not reach.  And then, lo! there it was!  As soon as I got home I bought one for me and my husband and pitched our older death traps.  At this years MEN Fair Mann Lake had a newer version.  This is the link for it.

Mann Lake Ventilated Bee Suit

They didn’t look better at all.  At the 2015 MEN Fair they were excusing the weight, which did not bother me at all.  I suspect these new ones are lighter, perhaps sacrificing ventilation, but unless you can find 2015 Mann Lake bee suites on e-bay, it is likely the best you will be able to procure.

dscn1080In the harvest picture above, you may have noted the “triangle board” on top.  This is designed so that bees can find their way out, but not back in and it works wonderfully.  Somehow the sharp angles, small entries, and a big hole over the supers in the center (where the bees are) where they can’t get in, totally flummoxes the bees.  I hope by tomorrow morning most of the bees will be out.

Tomorrow I will update you on how I extract the honey.  For today, there are some very angry bees outside, and I’m not going out there!

Easy, Unsightly and Healthy Chicken Coop Management

There are those that recommend scraping up chicken droppings daily. Yes, daily.  Others weekly (and I’m certain this results in a stinky coop five days a week).  There are those that use the deep litter method where the litter is never changed, but involve mixing in so much other matter (wood chips, hay, leaves, etc) and water on a regular basis that the bottom of the coop becomes a  compost heap — that’s a lot of hauling and mixing.  I don’t do any of those things, and the coop typically looks dreadful, but it doesn’t smell, I only clean it once a year, and the chickens are healthy except for a some leg mites on some of the older chickens.  Stopping all leg mites would require a continuous chemical onslaught, and I prefer to cull the birds with a weakness for leg-mites.

Be aware, my rebellious ways will only work with a flock that does not have endemic disease, and that is free range.  My chickens are only in the coop during the night (except during the coldest days of winter when they choose to spend most of their time in the coop) and my coop has wall-to-wall perches that are clean of droppings.  This happens naturally as chickens don’t foul their roosts.  I do not feed them in the coop so they spend minimal time on the floor.  All droppings will off-gas ammonia and other noxious gases so any coop must have good ventilation.  Whatever management technique you choose to use must result in a coop that does not smell rank.  Fowl droppings aren’t of the smelliest kind, like human, for instance, but they will smell nasty if left in wet heaps under perches.

What I do is to simply put a layer of hay, maybe an inch thick when lightly pressed down (but it’s hard to say since it clumps), down after I clean the coop.  When the coop starts to smell ripe, I throw down a similar amount of hay — this happens every few months.  The chickens will kick and scratch the new hay about looking for bugs, and they might find some — they don’t do this much, but regardless, this keeps the hay and droppings mixed. I water the inside a few times a year on the rare occasions the hose is strung out that far.  That is all.  Last year I didn’t spread the hay down and within two days the coop stank; I threw in some hay and the next day the smell was gone.  Obviously it’s the action of micro-organisms, and evidently the dropping-to-hay ratio can be quite high to keep the micro-organisms active.  I expect the action would be quicker if I used more hay and regular watering, but moisture is the enemy of healthy chickens respiratory tracts and would be more work.  I don’t need it to compost quickly; I need it to not smell and harm my birds.

Yesterday I cleaned the coop, as I always do on a bright, sunny day.  The bottom of coop is lined with heavy plastic that I haul out slowly, removing most of the manure in shovel fulls as I go.  There were four five-gallon buckets of manure, that did not smell.  I saw only one bug, lucky thing.  This manure does a good job of fixing hot spots in the yard and over the years we are down to one about two-by-three feet (we live on a “reclaimed” strip mine), but most of this year’s manure was thrown into the garden.  Then I hosed off the plastic and left it spread in the sunshine to dry, and hosed out the coop and the nesting boxes.  I use large storage containers for the nesting boxes so they can be pulled out in the sun, dumped clean, disassembled and thoroughly hosed.  The ceramic fake eggs are put in a bucket of bleach-water to soak.  Then I left everything alone for a few hours to dry, followed by reassembly.

The pictures below show the south-facing side of the coop.  The screen windows are covered with rigid plastic in the winter with channels to allow moist air to escape.  They are facing south to allow for solar heating in the winter, but the generous eave keeps sunlight out of the coop in the summer.  The sunlight showing from the west is via an open man-door in the western wall.  The solar lights help maintain enough light for egg production through the winter; they worked great last year.  Griz, shown in the 2nd picture, and all the other dogs, enjoyed all this work with manure, and one of them found and ate a rotten egg — I know this because it came out the other end last around mid-night in the kitchen.

dscn1065  dscn1058  dscn1057  dscn1056

Below, is a view of the inside of the main coop, insulated with reflective insulation on the roof to help with light in the winter, and feed sacks on the walls.  With the metal shell on the outside, and feed-sacks on the inside of the 2 x 4’s it’s actually the dead air-space between the two that insulates.


The floor boards of the coop can be removed, but they’re heavy so I simply pulled them out a bit so when the coop was hosed the remnant manure went out the end of the coop to the bottom.

The coop is two stories, with the top being the main coop and the bottom being overflow and shade.  I left all of the manure in the bottom from the past year, and yesterday added more hay and perches.  As I was positioning the cinder blocks to hold the perch-ends I had to stick my head in there.  I knew it didn’t smell bad (that’s why I decided not to scrape it clean), but was surprised to be reminded of a horse barn.  Seriously (I like the smell of horse barn’s).  The upstairs coop can hold 20 birds and while that’s tighter than ideal, it helps to keep them warm — that’s good since no electricity runs to the coop.  The coop is insulated and designed for passive ventilation to reduce the poop-fumes and moisture from bird respiration.  Because the chickens can leave whenever they want during the day, they are happy birds and I’ve had no problem with the chickens pecking each other.  On the other hand, I currently have 40 chickens and even though many are not yet adult size there is no way that many will fit in the main coop.  By winter I’ll have that number down to 20.

Below is a view of the coop from the east, showing the chicken yard and coop’s lower level.  The lower level provides shade in the heat of summer, and overflow roosting.  The cinder-blocks are cocked to bind the perches and hold them tight.  The 55 gallon drums cut in half are giant planters designed to grow morning glories up the wiring to provide more shade.  That plan failed miserably — chickens evidently will eat morning glories, and even weeds.  We use wood chips in the yard.

dscn1061    dscn1064    dscn1062

How to Manage a Broody Hen to Hatch and Rear Young


A young commercial layer (hen) will lay almost one egg a day, but one egg every other day is more typical for a home flock with older hens of mixed pedigree.  One rooster for every ten hens or so will ensure the eggs are fertile.  Some roosters can handle more.  If a rooster isn’t successfully fertilizing eggs with a flock of ten hens, a new rooster is in order.



For the purpose of this article, a “broody-hen” is a hen that will go broody.  A hen that has gone broody is a hen that has laid all the eggs she thinks she should, and she now intends to sit on those eggs for 21 day to hatch out chicks.

If you look at and gently bother a hen who is sitting on a nest to lay an egg, she will become alarmed and rush out of the coop making a racket.  Do the same to a hen that is broody, and she will sit still and ignore you, or the meaner ones will fix you with a hate filled eye and double dare you to try something.  (These are the very best broody-hens.)  Mostly you will notice that when you are collecting eggs in the evening, there will be a hen refusing to move from the nest.  Leave her for 24 hours and if she’s still there, then she’s serious.

Not all hens will go broody, in fact, breeds that specialize in laying eggs such as Leghorns should never go broody.  Other breeds are hit and miss, like Buff Orpingtons.  I have a friend who has a whole flock of about 12 hens and none of them have ever gone broody, whereas I bought five and two of them do go broody every year.  Other breeds are notorious for being broody, such as Silkies.  As I run a mixed flock, there are usually more broody-hens than I want, but once I did have to actively seek an influx of broody stock.  I didn’t want to use Silkies since they are small like bantams and all of these small birds are just the size for hawks to snatch up.  One minute there they are, then the next minute gone!  Standard old English game chickens are known to go broody, and the ones I bought from Cackle Hatchery, though expensive, certainly were and have passed these broody genes down through the generations.

Standard Old English Game chicks from Cackle Hatchery

Do not keep a broody-hen that will not complete her job.  Any hen that starts to sit on eggs and changes her mind, or abandons her chicks too early, is a hen that has taken time from you, ruined all of those eggs and is not producing eggs as she should.  Soup would be a good job for her.

Now is as good a time as any to point out that half of the hatched chicks will be male, yet a flock only needs about one rooster per about ten hens.  This means there will be a lot of extra males, so don’t start down this path if you don’t have a plan to get rid of them.  The most sensible plan would be to slaughter and butcher the extra males and put them in the freezer.  Or you can give them to someone else who will butcher them.  Don’t think you can keep them (this will lead to flock chaos including the males fighting, and multiple rapes of the hens daily resulting in torn up backs and low egg production) or give any away to a paradise country estate.  I have succeeded in finding nice homes for three roosters over two decades — this isn’t enough to dent the number of male chickens you will be stuck with.

It should be noted here that a hen used to raise young will not be producing eggs.  So she will produce no eggs for the 21 days she’s sitting on the eggs, or for four to six weeks while she’s looking after her chicks, and she may decide to go broody two to three times a summer.  Two our three broody-hens is all a that are needed to maintain a home flock and produce surplus chickens for the freezer.  By banding the broody-hens you can try to keep the number of broody-hens necessary to meet your needs.

If you have more hens going broody than you want, and you don’t want to convert them into soup, then put them in a bare pen with food and water for four to five days.  Make sure they have necessary protection from the elements, but also have no comfy place for a nest.  Exceptionally broody hens will sit on nothing, and the idea of the pen-treatment is to break up this mindset.


When a hen goes broody in the egg-laying nesting box, I don’t use any of the eggs she is currently sitting upon.  There are usually only one or two since I collect eggs daily and hens tend not to lay in a nesting box with a broody hen in it.  “Tend” is in italics because they will, and broody hens will move to another nest if annoyed too much, leaving ruined eggs behind and ruining a new batch as well.  What to I mean by “ruined”?  The chick has started to develop inside the egg, starting with a large round spot on the yolk and the egg white becomes runny.  I scramble these eggs and I’m sure caught early enough they would taste fine, but I feed them to the dogs and back to the chickens.  It’s unlikely that a broody hen will stay on eggs in the egg-laying nesting box for the 21 days necessary to hatch chicks, given the likely interference of other hens.  Even if she does, other hens will lay some eggs in the nest which, over three weeks, will result in too many eggs and a very low number of chicks hatched.  Furthermore, when the first few eggs hatch, the mother hen will leave with the first few chicks so none of  the eggs laid in the nest later will survive.

So, you have a hen that has gone broody.  Leave her where she is, and fix up a place for her separate from all other hens, safe from predators, protected from weather and with the nest in semi-darkness.  A separate pen with a doghouse in it will work, or partition off a part of the barn or a shed.  I have two broody-boxes that are four by four feet each, with screened fronts.  Smaller than this and the broody-hen may be too tense to finish her job.  It’s critical that the nest is insulated on the bottom, contained on the sides so eggs don’t role out and will not hold in moisture.  Soda can crates, or kitty litter boxes with multiple holes drilled in the bottom to allow moisture to escape, work well.  I put down two to three layers of newspaper in the bottom of the crate or box, and then make a nest with hay.  Put up to ten eggs in the nest for a standard-sized chicken, maybe up to 12 for larger hens.

DSCN0525     20160719_181445     DSCN0527 (1)

The eggs that you use can be several days old at room temperature, but they cannot have been refrigerated and should be kept out of sunlight to avoid over heating.  (I would not trust eggs left out during even one very hot day.)  Once the hen is sitting on them, the older and the newer eggs will all start to produce a chick at the same time, triggered by the heat from the hen’s body.  Since my hens lay different sizes and colors of eggs, I take a picture of the nest so I won’t forget what the eggs were like.  Do not use the few eggs the hen is already sitting on in the egg-nesting box, as these will hatch first and she’ll leave the almost ready-to-hatch eggs behind.

Put the nesting box into the semi-dark, protected area of the enclosure.  It’s best to put it on top of a little hay so it’s not in direct contact with the ground or floor boards.  The hotter the weather is, the more important it is to ensure moisture can escape.  Provide cracked corn or poultry food, and water in the enclosure.  She will not eat or drink much.  Make sure the water dish is shallow so chicks can’t drown in it.

Take the broody hen and move her to the enclosure with the nesting box and new eggs.  I put on gloves because I’m a coward.  Slide your hand under her body and firmly grasp a leg.  Then get the other one.  As long as you don’t let go of the legs, she can’t get away.  Carry her, supporting her body to keep her as calm as possible, to the enclosure and set her down, then quickly shut the door.  I like to do this when it’s early twilight.  She needs to be able to see those tempting eggs in the nest, but it’s best if she doesn’t have a lot of time to carry on about being moved, and it may help if she can’t see too well to notice nest differences.  But I have moved hens successfully in the middle of the day.

Mark on your calendar when the chicks are due, and check her food and water every few day.  Don’t clean up droppings; she needs to be bothered as little as possible.

Chicks should hatch out of 80-100 percent of the eggs in the nest.  It is often said that chicks that don’t hatch out themselves cannot be saved.  This is not true, but saving partially hatched chicks or slowly hatched chicks (with curled feet) will be covered in a different article.


Luckily, the hen will raise the chicks herself with little help from you.  I’ve seen them successfully rear young hatched in the highest heat of summer, and when there was light snow on the ground (more than light snow can lead to chicks with frost-bitten toes).  They can be moved to a larger enclosure immediately, or if the enclosure they are in is big enough you don’t have to move them at all.  The chicks do not need food or water for 2-3 days as they will be living off of the yolk in their stomach, so I think it’s best to leave the new family alone for a few days.  If you pick up a newly hatched chick, you can feel it’s soft belly filled with yolk.  Be aware, the hen will try to kill you if you try to pick up a chick, but luckily her arsenal can only nick your skin.

If you’re not going to let the hen and chicks forage for food, they will have to be provided with commercial chick feed.  In a pinch, ground cat or dog food and cracked corn will work in the short term — they can be ground fine enough for a chick in a blender.  Or dog food can be soaked in water overnight and they can eat that.  I don’t do any of this with chicks hatched by a hen, though.  After 2-3 days, I let them go out and get their own food each afternoon, ensuring they have cracked corn and some table scraps in the morning.  There is nothing like watching a hen show her chicks how to forage for food.

DSCN0500     1104 Easter Peeps 021     ch IMG_3307 (2)

If you should want to move the hen and chicks from one place to another when they are loose, slowly herd the chicks with your arms spread out.  When very young, they’ll generally stay together, and the hen will follow the chicks while occasionally charging you and perhaps pecking your toes.  (When over ten days old, forget it, as the chicks can fly, have a lot of confidence, and will not herd.)  If there are obstacles and a chick gets separated, leave it and finish moving the others.  Then go back and get it.  But what if you can’t find or hear it?  Chicks can be crafty and when alone will often hide and go quiet, but eventually they will cheep for mom to get them, and then you will have them.  Do not have any loose dogs around when you do this.  Dogs are craftier than chicks, and like to feel them squish in their teeth.

The hen and chicks can be reintroduced to the flock almost immediately if the pen is large enough.  Set up a shelter on the ground, and watch for bullying, which will rarely and briefly happen if the mother hen is low on the flock pecking order.  I’ve never had to interfere or separate a hen and chicks from the main flock, but I have a large pen and let all of them out for several hours daily, so the chickens aren’t stressed.  More stressed flocks may result in less tolerant adult birds and more serious problems.  Watch them at feeding time and this should tell the tale.

DSCN0903The hen will stay with them for up to six weeks, but most leave them earlier.  As long as the young birds have grown out their feathers, have their mates (siblings), and look like they know what they’re about, they will be fine on their own, except for predators.  When young chickens are no longer protected by their mother, but are not yet close to adult size, is when I have had my biggest losses in the past due to predation.  The more time young birds are penned, the fewer will be your losses (this is true for any size chicken, but much more so for smaller birds).  On the other hand, the more the chickens are penned, the less happy and healthy they will be.  The right ratio depends on your loss tolerance, location and predator load, and dogs — which can discourage predators or be predators themselves depending on the dog.