Category Archives: Chickens

Frat house

Of course, I should have taken a pic or two while building it, and didn’t.  I just got it in place in time for night and the rain I wasn’t expecting until tomorrow.  Coop building is becoming a standardized activity.  I’ve got my pattern down.  I have not yet landed on a design for making a freakin’ heavy box of chickens readily portable, though.  The Silkie box with the axle works, but it’s still heavy. Not something you look forward to.

It was urgent to get all the roosters out of Silkieland to give the hens a break.  There’s been too much shrieking lately.  The chicks that came late last year have just matured, and some of the roos are jerks.  They’ll have to go.  In the meantime, they are getting gender segregated, and the girls can get a restorative break for their nerves.  Ohhh, those dudes’ll be grumpy tomorrow when they come out and they’re on the wrong side of the fence.  Some of them wailed like they were going to their doom when I plucked them out of the coop to drop them in their man cave.


It’s screen door season, so there’s Cheeks on the doormat.  She can and does come to watch me through the door.  She one-legs it more at the end of the day; her foot must get sore.  She’s so sweet.  She seems attached to me, hanging out close to the house far more often than the other chicks and when she’s alone, but I can’t touch her.  Oh no.  She’ll barely take food from my hand.  You might stick me in a box again.

It’s also bug-bite season.   Ugh.  I’m speckled with bites.  “Speckled” is kind of a pleasant word, and there’s nothing pleasant about red welts all over, swollen forehead lumps, from blackflies and noseeums and mosquitoes and ticks.   I think it’s that magical time of the year when ALL the biting insect “seasons” overlap.  They’re all on right now.

As I threatened to, I’ve taken to wearing my bee suit gardening, and it’s as awesome as I imagined.  As close as possible to being sealed in an insect-excluding ziploc.  It sure gets dirty fast though. I ordered another suit for actually working with the bees.  Can’t wear it everywhere, though, so existing outside of the bee suit right now means bites.

The loaners

Two hens are on loan to another family who needs some chicks.  They are sitting on eggs and will return when their chicks are grown enough to not need their moms, like Cream Puff did last year (with a boyfriend in tow).  Broody hen rental service.

The hens, one Silkie and one standard, got boxed and transported at night, installed in their brooding accommodations, and after a day to adjust, they have settled in extremely well.

I visited.  Their coop is elevated, so when you open the access door, you’re eye level with the chicken.  Hilarious!I love this look.  Part baleful rage, part total serenity.  She’s fulfilling her destiny, but she will also take your finger off if you get ideas.  She’s not going to blink either.  She’s watching you.

You couldn’t pry her off those eggs now.  She’s in full pancake.

This one is SO happy to finally  have eggs. She’s been brooding around, squealing every time I lift the coop lid, because she knows I’m rudely going to take all the eggs out from under her that she’s been busy stealing and hoarding all morning.  I haven’t had a place to set her up to brood, or I might have given her an egg or two to keep.  I’m not trying to grow my flock this year.

Then this need for loaners arose, and fluke of flukes, I only had one Silkie broody (!).  So she lucked out. She gets to  keep eggs of her very own, and she is incredibly pleased about it.  Mine.  My precioussss.  She’s a very fiesty broody.

The Silkie mom is on the other side of the partition, and they’re set up in deluxe momming suites.

This girl is one of the white chocolates– all grown up!  My other one is already a mom – she went broody some time ago and is running around with three little ones.

Rain risk vs worm reward

The pig house (pig-less this year) is repurposed as a chicken rain shelter, and they LOVE it.  When it’s pelting down, almost the whole flock crowds in there, and the guineas come running in too.

The hens rock the rain pretty hard, but when it gets too heavy they jog for shelter.  Rain makes the worms come up, but they don’t like to get too wet either.  It’s a chicken risk/reward analysis.

Adding the laundry rack was one of my finer brain waves.  It increases capacity and fits snugly in the peak. Won’t tip over.  They use the shelter on sunny days as well.  Some of them just get on a rung after breakfast and spend half the day.   They like to have a nice safe perch for bird-watching.

That laundry rack has seen a lot of functions.  I remember buying it around 15 years ago.  It spent many years merely drying clothes.  Then it was a keet ladder, and now luxury perching, and I imagine it will last quite a while longer.

Or you can have a midday one legged, head-under wing nap under a coop. It’s a rain day!

A nice nest

One doesn’t think of chickens as being nest builders per se, but they definitely do nest construction.

Guineas, ground nesters like chickens,  craft quite beautifully careful nests, if extremely minimal ones, out of a few blades of grass.  It’s more of a saucer than a bowl – a slight bank to keep the eggs from rolling out, I suppose.

When I set the Silkies on eggs, I think I form a perfect nest in advance, but no.  They always clean it right up, to the point of leaving bare floor around the form of their nest.

When a chicken is working up to getting broody, she makes a lovely round bowl out of straw with a thick underpadding. In this case, there wasn’t a lot of material in the coop because it has just been cleaned, but some hen gathered up just about every blade of straw in there and pulled it into her nest purposes.

I wish I knew how this goes down.  Foot scratching?  Walking with beakfuls?  Beak raking?

The first chick of the year

Let’s try this again.

I had a hen go broody.  Try as we might to break her up, she was determined.   Kick her out of whatever corner she was trying to warm eggs in and she’d march around in full turkey mode, every feather flared and growling, until she could sneak back in another coop.

Then Cheeks started making eggs again, and I could give this hen something to do.

Instant turkey

What does she do?  Halfway through the process, she jumps up off the eggs, bursting out of the coop one morning and not returning.  Done being broody.

Luckily, I had Silkies handy and I popped two of them in on the eggs to save them.  I didn’t know if either was serious about sitting, or just laying an egg.  One was just laying an egg (Why’d you lock me in here?), but the other stayed on the eggs.  For a few days.

I popped another Silkie on them.  Another one.  Finally, I got one serious about the job, and she stayed, flattened out in the broody trance they go into.

Then one morning, she nonchalantly hops up, determined to leave.   I quit.  And her eggs are hatching!!!  There’s a big hole in one and it’s cheeping, and there’s another egg also cheeping.  I do what I always do with infant bird emergencies – stick them in my shirt, and finish opening procedures.

I didn’t have any other broody hens!  The coop was empty at breakfast time – no one to adopt these eggs that are in the act of hatching!  Without a mom, these chicks have no future.  I could only hope that one would get broodyish in the same day.  After at least 6 moms keeping these eggs alive til now, it would all come to an end?

I held the five eggs against my skin and got a hot water bottle to put on.  Alas, the cheeping egg ceased to cheep without cracking.  But the cracked egg finished hatching.  In my shirt.

I learned that chicks don’t exactly peck their way out of an egg.  They push.  They peck a crack around it, the same line we would crack around the top of a boiled egg before taking the top off with a spoon.  But the coming out of the egg is a very physical, full-body effort.  They push their way out of the  shell with their feet.  Kicking and kicking, straightening themselves from the tight curl they were in, and very much using their legs to kick the eggshell away from them.  I had eggshell bits all over, falling out the bottom of my shirt, but the chick was this dynamic little thing.  Immediately active, pushing its way around with teeny soft toenails.  It dried out.  It napped.  It stood on my hand.  It flapped.  It peeped when it was cold.

By lunchtime there was a hen settled in enough that I put the unhatched eggs under her and hoped for the best.  I did not think it was safe to give her the chick (Surprise!  Instant hatching), so I kept the chick in my shirt all day, planning to put her under the hopefully broody hen at night, when she’s dreaming, to give the graft the best chance.

day old chick falling asleep
Hot water bottle nap

It was so much fun!  Fun you don’t want to have every day, and recording was out for the day, but  it was just a magical experience, to keep a chick warm its first day of life.  I put my bra on the outside of my sweater, so the chick couldn’t fall out the bottom of my shirt, and got on with my day, careful not to lean on stuff and to put a hand to the chick every time I bent over.

Hello

The chick was happy.  Sooooo happy.  Tiny, but a vigorous life, optimistic, fearless, trusting.  Just joyful to exist.  Nimble and very mobile. Quiet, until it got cold.  It liked best to be up in my neck, but would also burrow into an armpit, and I’d have to restrict movement with that arm for the duration of the nap.

So many problems that can be solved with a cowl neck sweater.

Chicks can last comfortably three days without eating or drinking, in nature allowing time for all the eggs to hatch, and not in nature, to allow chicks to be mailed around the country.  Happily for me on this day, this means they don’t poop either, until they start eating.  Eating starts their digestion up.

Happy outcome: the hen accepted the chick overnight.  Better not be a rooster:)

Knock knock?

Cheeks progressed to spending all day outside.  She started eating from the trough with the other hens, then started laying her eggs in the nest box of the coop!

I hardly saw her from the morning post-yelling eviction until the evening.

She would still come to the door of the house at bedtime, or if it rained heavily.  Hello.  I still live here.  And I’d put her back in her banana box for the night.I can’t reach the handle.Ah!  There you are. Do open this confounded door for me, would you?  I thank you.

I don’t know why chickens often get English “I say, old sport” accents in my head.

So funny!  Coming to the door like a cat in the evening:)

How is Cheeks?

Cheeks is great!

Her brief supervised outings and chaperoned dates quickly turned into twice a day solo forays that got longer and longer.  At first she would come in wiped out, eat (or skip eating), drop into her banana box and sleep for hours.  You could see her building strength though, and she could stay out longer and longer before wanting to come in.

She was more of a solo chicken at first, as the other chickens still lived in the greenhouse and gravitated towards their food dishes over there, while she stayed very near the house. Jumping up on the sawhorse was kind of impressive for one good leg.

Then Cheeks started to make the walk over to the greenhouse!  She chose a rooster (Chris is the lucky guy). 

And then…she started to stay outside mostly all morning, and all afternoon.  Back in to drop an egg, or eat, and then, she would announce she was ready to go back outside by yelling.  In the morning as soon as she saw the other chickens through the window, cue earsplitting yellllling! with a prelude of whining.

That would earn her a prompt toss out the door for the morning (at 42 sec).

When she was in, she made it plain room temperature was too hot for her now too, by doing airplane impressions.  She’d acclimated to the cooler outdoors.I’m hot.  Should I start yelling or am I making myself clear?

All in all, she progressively spent less and less time as a coddled house chicken, and started her transition back to normal chicken.  I’m so proud!

Chicken play date

Cheeks has been having chaperoned outings.  I carry her out with me and set her down near where I’m working, in the field or the garden, and she moseys around, scratching and eating.

She loves it.  What I expected, was that after a couple of hours, she’d be tired, and willing and ready to be scooped up and carried home for a drink.  I’ve handled her daily for months.  She’s as tame as a chicken could possibly be.No.  Oh, no no no.  No!  Not yet!   Try to grab her and she hits the gas.  Can’t catch me! I’m a wild animal!  She can lead me on a proper merry chase, even with her lame foot.  When you do catch her though, she’s totally fine with being picked up.  The thrill is in the chase.I only look placid.

Today she got a supervised date. (A very brief date).  Speed date, even.  The rooster saw her from a distance, and barreled towards her, and saved his dancing for the afterglow.

She’s been looking forward to a date, based on how loud she shouts through the window when the roosters come to the yard.  And she didn’t make him chase.  Now all her gorgeous eggs won’t go to waste, and I’ll get some little Cheekslings.She also got some time with Perchick, which was adorable.  They spent nearly an hour together.  Perchick and Cheeks are the same age, possibly nestmates,and they behaved exactly like they recognized each other and fell in step like old times.   

I went to the library and came home with a chicken

I went to the library bus and while I was in the parking lot, the manager of the liquor store popped outside and waved me down, asking me to come in the store before I left.  What in the world, I wondered, could I be required in the liquor store for?  Who knows, though, really.  It’s a small town.

Well.  It turned out to be about a chicken.  There was a hen that had appeared some days ago and was living in the snow bank and brambles behind the liquor store.  They were feeding and watering her, and she was spending nights 10′ up in a tree.  (This was 3 weeks ago, when there was lots of snow and -15C nights).

Would I bring this chicken to a good home?  First, we had to catch her.  She was nervous and quick, and with the help of passersby herding, blocking, and diving in the snow after her, I caught her, and immediately stuffed her and her cold feet into my coat and zipped her in. (Chickens always love the coat treatment.  Dark and warm – they calm right down(.

Yay, the chicken was rescued, and I was bringing a new girl home.  I had one more stop to make.

I stopped in at the assisted living home, going inside with the chicken hidden in my coat, and just as I was turning to leave, the amusing novelty of being out in public with a concealed carry chicken got the best of me and I turned back, “Hey, you should see what I’ve got in my coat, haha!”  I unzipped enough for her head to pop out, and they squealed, and gasped, “Oh, would you mind showing some of the residents?!”

Thus began a room to room progress of coat chicken show and tell, most of the sick and elderly residents petting her and grinning with delight.  She was a gracious celebrity, quiet, mild, tolerant, poking her head out and “holding hands”.She’s drifting south in my jacket.  Notice  her little foot out gripping my hand.

After a much bigger day than most chickens have before noon, we got home.  I put her in a chickery for isolation and acclimation.Immediately all the old chickens crowded around to inspect.

I put her in the coop at night, then back in the chickery for the day, then a few part days loose.  She had a hard time at first so I’d put her back in her box for a break and a meal.  It’s hard to find one’s place in a big flock.  She’s small, a bantam something, the same size as a few teens, Very quick, high-stepping, nervy.

She’s integrated now!  She rolls with clique #1, the pufflings and the top rooster – a surprise.  She still hops into the open chickery, often in the morning, nostalgic-like.  I used to stay in here. 

 

 

Out on the range.

The birds are all out free-ranging again.  They’re so excited!! Mostly out. They are free to come and go, for the last week or two since the snow has been going.

They are so happy!  All the young ones (1-2 yrs) and the guineas spend all day out, pouring out of the greenhouse when I open the doors, popping back in when they get cold or thirsty, then back out for another shift of foraging.

Inside, the older chickens are less adventurous and content to have the dust baths to themselves.  I can’t wait to move out the Silkies, but it will be cold for another week or so.

Friends

These two were out and about alone, one cold day, without a rooster escort, and were all jumpy and guilty, like they knew they were on the lam.

The birds outside are partly PARTY! Excitement and adventure!   And partly attacking their days like they have a job, and they’re showing up to it late.  Serious.  So much to do!There’s something really good over there! They’re vigorously scritching around in the woods everywhere.  Now that they have the space, I can see the little cliques that have formed around each rooster.  Three good ones.