Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Rockin' New Chicken Tractor

I apologize that my posts are so rare and sporadic anymore. That is the nature of my life these days. I am super busy!

But anyhow, I wanted to show you my new chicken tractor...the chicken tractor I have dreamed about for the past year or so and only now had time or reason to build.

My next batch of Cornish X meat birds will come in August, but for now I have some 8 week old Easter Eggers hanging out in there until I can finish building my new coop.

I tried to put this up as a slideshow from my Photobucket account, but it won't embed for some reason. But if you click through on the picture below, you can go through each picture one-by-one and all the specs are given in the description below the pic.

Two things I learned on this project:  1) Wood screws with star drive bit heads rock!  And 2) Holding onto fence staples with a pair of needle nose pliers is much kinder to your thumbs.

This new tractor is going to make my life so much easier! Raising those CX might even become fun. I love the self-enclosed automatic watering bucket with chicken drinker nipples because the water will never get poopy. That means healthier birds--a substantially lowered risk for E-coli or cocci. And everything moves along WITH the tractor. No stepping into poo to take out the feeder and waterer prior to moving it.

Despite its size, this tractor is very easy for me to move by myself. Note though, it is necessary to pound on the far side of the tractor with your hand prior to pulling it along so that the birds will move out of the way and not get their feet squashed under the frame.

I took my time and really thought this one through. I think this design will serve me well for years to come.

(Read about how my 2013 batch of CX turned out in my tractor update here.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wild Bird Identification

We've noted four new species at our feeder in the past week.  We are now seeing House Finches, American Goldfinches, a Red-bellied Woodpecker and a Downy Woodpecker.

We needed to make some positive IDs of our new visitors prior to doing The Great Backyard Birdcount which begins this Friday.  When you see a bird that you do not know, it is best to stay put and make some observations.  Don't go running off to find your field guide!  The bird will probably be gone before you get back.  In short, some things to take note of are its size, shape, field markings (colors and patterns) and behavior.

We've been having fun making little sketches of the birds we've seen.

An excellent tool for identifying your birds is the Printable Tally Sheets available through The Great Backyard Birdcount.  You simply put in your zip code to get a comprehensive list of all birds that live in your area, grouped by type.

For those species that are underlined, you can right click to open in a new tab a page that details their identification, life history and facts, range map, several pictures of that bird including male and female versions, several audio clips of their particular songs and calls (we loved this feature best, instantly recognizing calls we had heard before) and short videos of each species doing what they do.

Here is the bird guide for the Eastern Bluebird, for example.  So many fun things, all in one place!

(Oddly enough, I haven't seen the first male bluebird in my backyard yet this year.  They return ahead of the females to stake out their territory and nesting sites.  I have it marked on my calendar that they usually appear around January 18th.  Most years I have a dozen or more that gather in my corkscrew willow.)

Spend a couple of hours on this very well constructed site and you will know certainly get to know your backyard feathered friends better.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Great Backyard Bird Count

I have never had a bird feeder before. I remember my father-in-law telling me that they draw rodents to your home. That is probably true. I live in an old farm house, so I certainly don't need any more rodents.

However, after watching the birds through the window at the dentist's office last month, I decided that I HAD to get one. It was so relaxing! So I stopped in Tractor Supply after my appointment and spent $45 on stuff to feed the birds.

Ava and I do our school work at the kitchen table. No matter the weather, I always have the curtain open to enjoy the country view out of my back patio doors. It was the perfect place to hang my feeder.

Our rotten little cat, Biscuit, also thinks it is a great place to watch stalk the birds. I worried about this initially, but have realized that the birds are aware of her presence and keep an eye out for her. Besides, any attempt to pounce them would result in Biscuit taking a flying leap off the back porch and falling about 15 feet below. Which would serve her right!

At least Biscuit takes care of the rodents!

As the birds discovered my new feeder, I was able to recognize most of them. One little black bird with a white belly was a new one to me and after a little searching online I found out that he is a Junco. I also came across the Great Backyard Bird Count project on the Audubon website and it is preparing to start at 7:00am EST on February 15, 2013. It is held annually.

The information they collect through a multitude of participants will be studied at Cornell University to put together a snap-shot of the health of bird species populations in the U.S. and elsewhere.

If you want to participate, the instructions can be found here. You'll need to set up a free account with them. It only takes 15 minutes of observation (or longer if you wish). Count and ID all the birds you see at your location during that time period and submit your list online at The event last 4 days, February 15 through February 18. They also have a photo contest with prizes.

Ava and I are going to use this opportunity as a fun science project. We've already identified all the birds we've been seeing daily. The same little birds come by to visit us each day, but lately I have noticed a few more have found us.

Ava's Nana recently brought her a copy of The Little Big Book of Birds by Natasha Tabori Fried which is beautifully illustrated and contains several short stories and poems about birds as well as interesting tidbits of information and history. Ava's favorite part was a list of bird calls represented as sayings. For example, robins say "cheer-up, cheer-up, cheerily". Using this method, we have been able to recognize several of our little feathered friends as they call back and forth to each other. We will be using this book for part of our studies, especially the poems.

I am a big fan of the tiny chickadees. I found and purchased two children's books for us to read: Chickadee Winter by Dawn L. Watkins and Emily the Chickadee

We also have on order Fifty Favorite Birds Coloring Book and Audubon's Birds of America Coloring Book, both from Dover Publications. We love their coloring books...all very educational and affordable.

We're also going to do a little art project making paper birds to paste onto a hand-drawn poster of a tree, make sketches of our birds in our observation notebook and learn about charting data after we have recorded our birds for the GBBC.

And just for fun, we are going to make bird's nest treats. I made these once for our Creation Club kids and they were a big hit.  This recipe is from the Creation Club Idea Book by Constance H. Crossman. I've had this book for a very long time, long before I even had children of my own. It is chock full of ideas for games, activities, crafts and projects for exploring science, topic by topic.

Edible Bird Nests

(modified by me)

  • 3 cups dry cereal
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Jelly beans or bird egg candies

Combine the cereal and coconut in a large bowl. In a sauce pan, bring to a boil the brown sugar and light corn syrup. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat and add the peanut butter and vanilla. Mix thoroughly and pour over the cereal mixture, tossing to combine. Allow to cool enough to handle, then shape into little bird nests. Fill each nest with the candy "eggs".

I guess you could call this a Unit Study. I am not exactly sure it fits that definition, being that I am new to homeschooling! ;)

There is still plenty of time to join the Great Backyard Bird Count. Everyone from beginners to serious bird watchers is invited to take part. Leave me a comment and let me know if you decide to participate. I think we will do it every year.

(FYI -- This is not a paid advertisement. All links and books cited are resources I found useful for my own purposes.)