Why You May Want To Consider Getting Sex-Link Chicks This Spring!

006If you’re thinking about expanding your flock or getting into backyard chickens for the first time,  you will need to decide on what breed of chicken you desire.  The easiest way to answer this question is to ask yourself why you want the chickens. Do you want them because you are interested in becoming more self-sufficient?  Is a colorful flock or different colored eggs important to you?  Is there a desire to help preserve a declining heritage breed, or……….is it simply the opportunity to get fresh daily eggs?  For me, ……..it’s ALL ABOUT THE EGG and there’s no better egg producing hen than a sex-link chicken.

Now….before all you heritage breed enthusiasts send me out to the firing squad, let me say that I do applaud your desire to preserve some of these declining breeds.  I think that’s great!  Everyone should be passionate about something. It’s just that the Heritage breed “passion”  is  not for me.  I simply want enough eggs on a daily basis for my family to eat and I find that my 3 sex-link chickens meet my expectations.  We all know that the Heritage breeds lay less and generally take a break or slow down in the winter, but  sex-links consistently lay way more eggs and continue throughout the entire year.  For me,  it’s kinda like the 1972 Oldsmobile that my father drove with its 455  V8 engine which sucked gas like there was no tomorrow.  Fast track 40 years later and we’ve developed more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles.  Sure, it’s nice to see those old cars on the road from time to time, but I’m glad that the auto industry has made more fuel-efficient cars for us to drive today.

Now, sex-links aren’t a breed.  In fact, they are a hybrid that has been crossed between 2 layer breeds.  They may  be called ISA Browns, Red Sex-Links, Shaver Browns, Cinnamon Queens, Golden Comets or Red Stars depending on the specific breeds that were used in crossing. They are all referred to as sex-links because each gender hatches out in a different color, making it very easy to determine the “boys” from the “girls”.   This is a great attribute which rules out the possibility of getting a bunch of soon to be roosters when buying some straight-run chicks from the local hatchery. But best of all, these hens generally become EGG LAYING MACHINES at around 18-22 weeks of age!  I’m not talking about 250 eggs per year like many heritage breed hens.  My 3 hens each consistently laid one egg almost every single day in their first year of production.  I know for a fact that I collected over 350 eggs that year from each of my hens.  It didn’t matter if it was 80 degrees in August or frigid temps in January or February……3 eggs almost every day! (I do supply additional light in the Winter.)  And I’m not taking about large eggs…these eggs are ginormous!  I’ve weighed some of these eggs and a few have come in at a quarter pound! 003 The only down side is that the eggs are soooooooo darn big that they can’t properly fit into the egg carton! Well……at least for 2 of my hens.  If you’ve “followed” me before, you may remember that I do complain about the Ping-Pong size egg that Swifer lays most days.

Anyways, I’ve had these chickens for almost 2 years now and they still continue to provide us with at least 18 eggs/wk.  They’ve all gone through a molt and it never really interrupted egg production for 2 of my hens.  There were some “bumps” in the road during the molt like a few “softies”, but no major drop in egg production that had us running out to the grocery store to buy those “other ones”.  As for temperament, these hens are pretty laid back as well.  Dominance has never really been an issue.  I can’t say I ‘ve ever seen any displays of aggression except when I introduced Rosie to the flock and Swifer gave her a good beatin’ for a few weeks.  But overall, they generally get along well….even when they’re subjected to  tight quarters like a 3 hour trip to the cottage.027   There also doesn’t seem to be much that throws them off their egg laying schedule.  Usually the first snow fall of the season might set one of them back for a day, but other “disruptions” like a trip to the cottage doesn’t seem to throw them off their game. 010 As for noise, they’re generally pretty quite.  The egg song has been an issue occasionally, and they do squawk a bit in the warmer months when they want out of the run, but by no means would I say that the level was invasive to a neighbor.  With regards to becoming broody, this has also never been an issue.

I can’t say enough good things about these ISA Brown Hens that I’ve had for the last 2 years.  Did I just get lucky?  Maybe, but I don’t think so because I have encouraged others to give these chickens a try and they always come back saying what great layers their new hens have become.

So………if you’re thinking about adding to the flock this Spring or just jumping in to backyard chickens for the first time, than I urge you to consider giving these chickens a try. What they may lack  in appearance (Don’t worry girls, I think you’re all gorgeous!) they sure make up for in temperament and egg production.046

If you’d like to read more on this topic, CLICK HERE for my page on Hybrid vs Heritage Breed Chickens.

How To Make A Beehive:Building Honey Bee Boxes

014 - CopyIt’s been pretty darn cold up here in Southern Ontario this week and I can’t stop thinking about honeybees.  Maybe it’s because the Winter allows for time to finally get around to some other interests that seem to get crowded out during the warmer months.  Anyways, this winter I am bound and determined to make 2 Langstroth honey bee hives from scratch.  The drive to do so comes from 2 forces.  First, I’ve been working with wood for the better part of 25 years and secondly, I definitely became smitten with “the bees” last year when I got my first introduction to beekeeping up near our cottage.  So….over the next few months, I’m going to post  different segments on how to build your own hive.  I don’t mean assembling purchased parts.  I mean building the real deal.  By the end of it all, I’ll have built 2 complete hives.  I hope that I’ll inspire you to do the same!

Making your own honey bee hive can be rewarding on a number of fronts.  First, there is a cost savings (around 30 %) which will really add up if you want more than 1 hive.  Second, there is the personal satisfaction in knowing that you built your own beehive.  But, if you acquaint time with money and/or have little or no basic cabinetry skills, than purchasing a beehive may be the right choice for you.

My version of the Langstroth hive differs from the traditional hive body in that I do not use a box joint or notched hive handles.  Instead, I use a rabbet joint and screws to assemble the boxes and “homemade” handles which are screwed onto each box.  It’s a whole lot easier, a whole lot safer to make and requires a lot less experience for the “home-hobby” guy or gal.

So…..lets get started.  But first, lets talk about safety.  Make sure that you read and understand how to SAFELY operate your power equipment.  In  some of the pictures below, the safety guard has been removed so that you can get a better understanding of the photo.  NEVER operate your equipment without a guard in place!

The only difference between the honey bee boxes is depth.  For the purpose of this post, I will be making a box which is 6 -5/8″ deep.  If you want to make a shallow box, it will be 5-11/16″ deep and a deep box will be 9-5/8″ deep.  All parts are 3/4″ thick.

Start by ripping the boards to width.  This is best done at the table saw. Note* If you have a jointer, it would be best to make a few passes on the board edge before ripping.012

Now cross-cut your pieces to length.  This can either be done on a table saw with a miter gauge or  a miter saw that is larger than the 10″ standard saw.  Either way, make sure to use a “stopper” so that every piece is exactly the same.  For the fronts and backs, cut them at 15-1/2″.  For the sides, cut them at 19-7/8″.  Note* When using the table saw, never butt the lumber up to the rip fence when cross-cutting. Make sure to have an axillary fence or scrap of wood clamped to the fence for this operation.  This will definitely prevent the wood from binding between the blade and the fence preventing dangerous kick-back. 016

Now, cut the rabbet joint in the sides.  The rabbet will be 3/8″ deep and 3/4″ wide.  This can be done with a router and rabbet bit or 2 passes on the table saw.  For the purpose of this post, I am doing the rabbet on the table saw.  First, start by cutting the rabbet to its correct depth with the workpiece facedown on the table saw. Once again, use an auxiliary fence or a scrap of wood clamped to the fence in order to prevent kickback. 019 Next,  stand the piece on edge to cut the rabbet to width.  Make sure to use a feather board to help keep your piece straight and cover the exposed blade.026

In the picture below, the feather board was only removed for the benefit of the picture.

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Now, cut the 5/8″ x 3/8″ rabbet for the tops of the fronts and backs (these will hold the  honey bee frames). This is done the same way as the previous rabbet.028

Now, using a homemade marking jig that was ripped to 3/8″ thick, mark the screw locations on both sides.  By using this “jig”, you will only have to measure out one time for all of your sides.  Simply place the jig on the edge of your board and mark the screw locations with your pencil.031

Using another template, mark out the two screw locations for each side of each box.  You will notice that there are 4 holes in this template.  That’s because it can be used to mark the handle screw locations for the front/back & the sides.   Just make sure to consistently mark your pieces from the same side.033

Now, pre-drill your sides and handle locations using a hand-held drill or drill press equipped with a countersink bit.  Note* It’s essential to pre-drill so that you don’t split the ends of the board.037

Now, make the handles for the boxes.  I like to use 2×6 for this part.  First, rip the 2×6 into 1-1/2″ width strips.  Then tilt the blade to 8 degrees and rip the strips again. (The 8 degree angle will allow for rain run off from the handles.) 039 Next, lower the blade to a 3/4″ height and set the rip fence to 3/4″.  Run the strips through the table saw making sure that the angled surface is positioned on the left side of the strip. 040 Next, turn the strip so that the angled surface is “facing up” and rip again.  By the end of the “rip”, the waste from the handle will fall away from the strip.  042Next, set up a stop block on the miter saw or table saw and cross-cut the strips to 6-1/4″ lengths.  Make sure that the 8 degree beveled face is not resting on the miter gauge (for the table saw) or the fence (for the miter saw).044

Glue and screw the handles, using 1-1/4″ deck screws,  to the outside of each box part.  I made a jig out of some scrap plywood which allows me to position the handle on to the exact spot of the box side.  I just reverse the jig for a hive body because it is wider.048

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Now, assemble each box using 1-1/2″ deck screws and exterior glue.049

Finally, carefully rip a few strips of that “waste” from the handles to 3/8″ x 3/8″.  Fill the 3/8″ spaces at the ends of the rabbets on the inside of the front and back pieces.  I used a Japanese flush cutting hand saw for trimming the “filler” piece.050

And…Volah!  You’re on your way to making your own  beehive(s).  To see how I built my hive stands CLICK HERE.  To see how I built my ventilated gabled roof, CLICK HERE.  To see how I built my ventilated bottom board CLICK HERE.053

How To Make Salami

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Late Saturday afternoons in winter are a great time to put up your feet by the woodstove….have a glass of wine with a few homemade olives, a slice of cheese or two, and SOME HOMEMADE CITY BOY SALAMI.  I can’t think of a better past time on the weekend.  Well…I could, but I know that Beloved Wife would not like me gettin’ too personal on the blog.  Anyways…..If you’ve ever thought about making salami and were too intimidated by the process, than I hope you’ll continue to read on and see that it’s not that difficult to make great tasting salami.  If you’ve never thought about making salami before this post, than I hope I’ve “planted a seed” and you’ll take the plunge into the world of charcuterie.

So……….are you ready to learn how to make GREAT TASTING HOMEMADE SALAMI??????……………….IF YOU”RE READY………CLICK HERE!040

Why That Darn Hen Won’t Use The Nest Box!

Portable chicken ark.

Portable chicken ark.

A couple of years back, my 3 hens moved from their portable Chicken Ark to some swanky digs here at City Boy Hens. It was kinda’ like the Jefferson’s, but this time it was my three hens who were “movin’ on up!”  The Portable Ark worked well, as it provided my hens with some space to “free range” and an upper level to roost and lay eggs,  but it was a pain in the butt to move around the yard each day.

So with hammer, nails, screws and wood,  I built them a home that was fit for Queens.  I meticulously constructed their coop/run; adding insulation, electricity and 2 nest boxes.  I know that some of you may think that the 2 nest boxes was overkill for three hens, but the last thing I wanted to do was make one of my girls have to wait in line in order to deposit her daily offering.  Besides, …….I know what it’s like at the cottage with only 1 bathroom.  Inventing a new dance move in front of a locked bathroom door is no way to start the day while a relaxed occupant casually thumbs through a 3-year-old  tattered magazine.

092Anyways…..I built 2 nest boxes for the hens and proceeded to line those boxes and the bottom of the coop with fluffy aromatic wood shavings.  The shavings in the nest box would make a great landing pad for the eggs and the shavings on the coop floor would make poop pickin’ up a whole lot easier.

As it turns out, Swifer, (YES IT IS THAT DAMN HEN AGAIN)  has chosen  to not make any distinction between the wood shavings in the nest box and those on the coop floor.  In fact, I think she feels the coop floor IS HER NEST BOX because she deposits her egg on the coop floor EVERY morning.  But worst of all, she had taught Rosie that this practice is acceptable.

I am proud to say that I have managed to “re-train” Rosie to use the nest box by  always keeping a plastic egg in one of the boxes, but Swifer ain’t gettin’ fooled by that trick.  In fact, she goes into the nest box and pecks that plastic egg until she has turfed it out on to the floor of the coop!

“OK Swifer…..it’s the beginning of a New Year and with it comes the opportunity to bid the past goodbye and  to start anew.  How ’bout you start laying that “ping-pong poor excuses you call an egg” up in the nest box and I’ll stop decorating the coop walls with pictures of great tasting chicken noodle soup recipes!  Deal?????????????????????”

I do have my doubts……..It’s hard to teach an old chicken new tricks!

Well…..as Meatloaf sang “Two out of 3 ain’t bad!”009

Happy New Year To All!