Since our laying chickens get to roam wild and free wherever they want, we are hardly putting them to work in every way we could. Sure, they make manure compost and lay eggs, but we haven’t asked them to kill sod for garden beds, or put them in a tractor for deliberate fertilizing. They make mulch for me, though.
All I have to do is feed them twice in the same place, by scattering their breakfast grain in a grassy place. They are so vigorously committed to finding every last crumb that they tear up the grass, it dries, and I collect it with a rake. Clean, soft, dry garden-ready mulch. Maybe with a little bit of bonus chicken poop. Could not be easier.
Sometimes when I’m walking down the path, I hear a little whisk whisk behind me, and I look back to find two or three hens eagerly running along behind me. They stop immediately when I stop and mill around, at a loss. Uh, we were just, uhhhh, nothing.
I start walking again and they run some more, curiously following. Chickens running is about the funniest thing ever. There’s the loping jog, where the side to side bobbing is very pronounced (doing doing doing), and then the running, more springy up and down but less side-to-side (boingboingboing), and then there’s the top speed, which usually means they throw their wings out for stability or to maybe be ready to take off at any moment, and so look like children running in superhero capes. I spend a lot of time with a chicken shadow, and H.W. occasionally gets tailed. So funny! They’re convinced something good will fall to the ground around me if they only stick to me.
Only the low hen will come all the way to the camper by herself; others have followed HW here, but usually I tell my little followers to turn around, back it up! and then as soon as they lose sight of me on the curving path, they return to the others. We do not want the whole flock hovering around the camper waiting for the door to open. H.W. was already scandalized at our resident low hen today. He set his slice of pie down on the bench to pull his shoes on, and she darted up, grabbed the pie, and ran into the woods with it. She knew exactly what was at stake; earlier she was eating pie crust crumbs out of my hand. I want to pet her, but we are not at that stage in our relationship yet.
The naked chicken seems to be quite high in the order now, and her feathers are starting to poke out of her skin again, although she still looks ghastly half-naked. H.W. makes jokes in bad taste about her looking appetizingly half-cooked.
The low hen brought a friend ‘round the camper with her. They seem to get along. I throw the odd scrap to them and brush crumbs out there, and betweentimes they go scratching in the crunchy leaves nearby, which is loud. Having two hens around here, I thought that they just might wander over to the Silkies that are parked so near us, and I was hoping I’d witness the event. (We have the Silkie coop near our camper, which is on the other side of an expansive field from the full-size hen coop and our vehicles/garage/etc).
Not quite. I heard the Silkies burst out cry-screaming, and I ran out to see, just in time to see a red (full-size) hen sprinting towards me on the path from the coop, head up, eyes wide. Behind her Snowball the Silkie rooster was thundering along like a stormcloud, head down, wings out, and eyes narrowed. I didn’t have time to turn my camera on before it was over. The hen streaked past me and kept going, squalling indignantly all the way back to the flock. The Silkie turned and ran back to his coop, where the little red hen was squealing like a spoiled little rich girl, not scared, but deeply offended. That was that. They’ve met, and they don’t get along. The big hen got seen off. It wasn’t the low hen, but her friend.
Later HW told me he’d been messing with the birds, trying to coerce an introduction, and he’d wondered why no amount of enticement would get the big hens to pass a certain point on the path to the Silkie coop.
The low hen hangs out by the camper all the time now. She’s different, very content to be all by herself out here the other side of the field from the flock. I would too, if being around the rest meant I got feathers pulled out of my head. She’s the only chicken intrepid enough to follow the path around the field all the way here on her own. It’s nice, to have the one chicken so close, and I’m glad she can hang out somewhere safe from social pressures. When I open the door she appears, looking to see if I’m going to throw something.
And they put themselves to bed perfectly too.
The naked chicken is healing.
We built a fence, so the chickens’ days of lounging in the garden are over.
The fence won’t keep much more than the chickens out at this point, but we haven’t had any deer around yet, and the chickens are threat number 1.
When we had three sides done, hens were finding their way around to the unfinished side to get in, so there was more hat-throwing.
H.W. also helpfully provided proof that the chickens can fly over the fence, when they are sufficiently motivated.
They are ranging further, nearer to camp Silkie every day. I hope I’m there to see first contact. What will the Silkie rooster make of the big hens when they sail out of the grass at him? Gorgeous Amazon hens! or Mutant monsters!
The hens are all well-attached to the rooster now. Occasionally there’s an independent or a pair palling around at a distance, but usually all the hens are in the same vicinity.
They are endlessly entertaining, popping out of the grass, sneaking, running, exploring. They love it under our box truck and hang out under there every day, whether rainy or sunny. I keep expecting to have to get eggs from under there, but they lay in the coop now without variance.
All 10 stowed themselves at night again. Ahhh, the time of adjustment is over, and there’s no need to worry about them any more.
H.W. has a swarm of chickens near him most of the time when he’s working. Chainsaw, splitting firewood, dragging things around – they drift along behind him as he works. I don’t know if they’re hoping for something more than the company. The chickens all pal around together most of the day, now. It’s a lot harder to count 9 hens at a glance.
Almost always, there’s seven around the rooster, and then two just a little behind, or off to the side a bit. It’s lovely to see them all drifting around together, squabbling or worm-running or digging. Hens look like sailboats cruising around, especially when they’re eating. They’re rarely not funny, whatever they’re doing.
I can recognize the low bird now. She’s missing a lot of feathers on her head behind her comb from being pecked. I saw another hen pluck a short feather out of her head at feeding time, and then she ran under the truck. I see this hen sometimes drifting off on her own. I’m surprised at the pecking; there is no shortage of space or entertainment out here. It’s not realistic at all to quarantine one bird, but I want to help her out.
H.W. cut down the remaining snag created by the hurricane. It was a tough fall and I was working the come-along trying to pull it over where we wanted it to go. Lots of yelling, roaring chainsaw; this doesn’t bother the birds. Naturally, all the chickens wanted to be in the fall zone and I had to push them off into the woods for their protection. The tree came down where we wanted, ahhhh. Success; relief. H.W. shuts the saw off and we’re quiet – there’s nothing more to say, it’s all done. But the rooster freaks out when the tree falls, going off like a siren, shouting, shrieking blue murder. BABWOCKBABWOCKBABWOCK! The end is nigh! Doom and destruction! The sky is falling! He doesn’t stop for a long time.
Uhoh. H.W. put the birds away in the night, a little bit earlier than full dark. I asked if he counted beaks in the coop and he scoffed, “No, but they’re fine”. Three nights straight they’d all gone to bed perfectly, so I figured yes, probably they are just fine, no need to worry. In the morning on my way to let them out of the coop I opened the truck for feed. A lone hen popped out from somewhere! She’d spent the night out, I don’t know where. She started telling me all about it! BuhBUHbaBAbabuh!BUHbuhBAbaBAbaBUH!!buhbaba!BUHba….on and on, very funny with all the variety of pitch in her voice. She was all worked up. When I released the others she ran back to the embrace of the flock and the rooster did a little dance at her. The rooster dance seems to be a kind of chastisement or herding behaviour, as unfortunately, this rooster doesn’t dance before mating.
The chickens have learned that I bring food. They see me and all run towards me down the path. It makes me feel quite popular. If I don’t give them anything, they mill around, some poking their heads up high and tilting them to look sharply at me. If I walk away slowly, they lurk and then follow me furtively a few feet off. If they’re positive I have food, like if I rattle it, they will all jog along behind me as I walk. How do they know, even from a distance, that it’s me, even with a complete wardrobe change? H.W. does not get this treatment; they know us apart.
What good good chickens. They look after themselves all day, lay 7 eggs every day in the coop, and all go to bed at night. Perfect chickens.
A hen made it all the way along the path to our camper! She went strolling by the front of the camper and walked into the woods. That’s far past where all the other chickens have made it to, and ever so close to the Silkies. I thought we’d have contact for sure, but not quite. The Silkie roosters were on high alert, hearing her in the woods, but she didn’t quite make it over to them. It was the low hen! I gave her a pile of seeds and scraps, and she could enjoy without competition. I expect to see more of her over here by herself.
Big news of the day: Whattt? A bantam egg?! On their 51st day here, when we’re past expecting them to ever lay, the Silkies get in the game and come out of nowhere with an egg!
Perhaps all the fertility going on is contagious. As tiny as it is, it surprises me that’s it’s that big, because the petite handfuls that the Silkie hens are are SO much smaller than the big red hens. It’s translucent and pointy, but with a firm shell.
We go to town to buy fencing (urgent due to chicken depredation) and end up doing many other things. It’s too wet for the big chickens to venture far from the coop (ie. do much damage to the garden); they cluster under its shelter, and at night, there are three staying up later than the others, and one nestled in the grass nest again. They traipse upstairs irritably but with much less drama. No eggs outside, that we can find, anyways; seven laid inside (good girls). We can assume the lobster-hen is out of commission at the moment and the others take some days off. I notice that they shift some nesting material and the plastic eggs from box to box; H.W. reiterates wish for a night-vision chicken cam. “What do they DO in there when no-one’s looking?”
Their going to bed by themselves is going to have to be close enough. I’m not sure how they’re getting out, but they have announced their readiness to free-range by a mass breakout. I let them to it, intending to keep an eye on them.
Uhoh. A couple hours later I go to look in on them, and there’s not a chicken in sight. Crickets. I start walking around the field, down the driveway, where I’d expect them to go, into the cool trees. See and hear nothing. No chickens, anywhere. I find them right behind the barn demo site, in a grassy depression just out of sight. Phew.
Now they are free, what really strikes me is how far they readily range. I guess I imagined how much the Silkies range, only proportionally increased. So, 5-6x as far. No, much farther. They are roaming farther, faster, than I expected. They were nearly across the field, and I headed them off, uncertain how an encounter with the resident puny poultry would go.
A little later:
The rest of the hens are back at the barn, rooting and bathing at the sandy edge of the barn rubble.
Bedtime. Hens are gathering in the vicinity of the coop, that’s great. After a little longer, they were all under the coop, so I closed the sides. Oh wait, not all. Bet I know which two are missing.
These two were wandering around all day together, which worries me. That’s cool they’re besties, but if every day is girl’s day out, they could get picked off. HW read over what I wrote about picking them out and choosing “a couple outliers” – ohhhh. Yeah, that’s them. The other four are super attached to the rooster, and go everywhere with him.
I chase the rooster, and he bleats, and the hens all come running behind me down the path.
Five eggs today.
The chickens are fascinated by the rubble, and that is not ok. There’s a mountain of broken glass and styrofoam beads everywhere. I was working cleaning it up and the hens all gathered around, and then crept in closer on me, very excited about what I was exposing by raking. HW noticed fresh peckmarks on some chunks of foam, and then the rooster was trying to pick something out of his foot, so we tried to chase them away from the barn. They went into the garden.
They are not yet into the greenery (what there is of it), but they are very excited about the mulch, and need to shift it all to eat what’s underneath. Chased them from there. They like to follow our paths, and many paths lead to the garden.
They’re back at the barn. There’s a huge field of salad to explore, but they’re all over our work zones. H.W. says they are definitely lively chickens, and it’s nice that they’re so interested in being around people. It’s true, I love curious chickens, but the barn is a hazmat zone. We decided to tarp the barn area, to cover everything dangerous. The chickens were getting determined, sneaking from behind to get the “good stuff” while I was running others off in the other direction. The loner girls are integrating better today, which means more sneakers on the scene.
I had the area more than half covered when one hen ran in on a mission to gobble on a a piece of styrofoam, beads flying. I chased her off, yelling, and she was off in the grass again with the others, totally busy. I walked the 50’ to the house for more plastic and come back- gone about a single minute, and there she is in the middle of the heap again, maniacally attacking the foam. Nooo! Why is white styrofoam chicken crack? It much be the crunchy, popcorn texture.
Tarping the whole area works, and the chickens are safe again (in the woodpiles, under the truck, around the house).
Four eggs today. Each hen is laying 3 eggs every four days.
At night we go out to get three more hens from the same place. It’s dark and they are sleepy and come home in the tub again. I pick the third hen of the former trio of “outliers”, and we take two more from the same perching spot as before, hoping they are more of our rooster’s hens. The “third hen” is a sorry critter. She’s moulting or pecked so her whole back and shoulders of her wings are bald, and she’s got a horrible sunburn. As bad as the one H.W. came back from his bike ride with. I’m hoping she will recover and do better in the smaller flock.
This is nine hens now.
We deposit the new chickens into the coop, after slathering aloe vera on the sunburned chicken, despite H.W.’s protests: “You are not going to put aloe on a chicken…I am not participating in that…I don’t believe this….you better not tell anyone about this”. Her bumpy chicken back is dry and hot, and the aloe must feel good for her, like anyone with a sunburn. Oddly, none of the chickens are roosting now. They are all settled down on the floor of the coop, and in the nest boxes. Weird. They look comfortable though, and there is still a load of space.
Assuming the reunited flock would be managed by the rooster and the new arrivals would follow the example of the others, I let them all loose in the am. Never assume. Midmorning screaming from the rooster and I find it’s because the flock is dispersed. Three hens missing, surprise surprise. Two hens are by the downed trees and I herd them towards the path to the coop. As soon as they’re on the path, they break out in a run and haul chicken butt back to the flock, and the rooster greeted them and went quiet. Turns out it’s the same imminent danger call for a lost hen as a threat to the flock. BaBWOCK, BaBWOCK! BaBWOCK! and the hens join in too, hollering. Last time that alarm went off the Silkies were being menaced by the tabby cat that used to come around here.
I take off looking for the sunburned hen, and find her deep in the woods. She’s cunning and it’s a long, scratchy chase through the undergrowth with her little tail disappearing far ahead of me, to get her back up to our civilized area and back to the flock.
An hour later, she’s gone again, and I can’t find her. I launch a massive henhunt in the afternoon, and find all kinds of interesting things but not her. Perhaps she is dying of shame with her naked back or is unwanted by the flock due to her wretched looks. Perhaps, H.W. says, “she thinks you’re going to put aloe on her again.” Finally I wrote her off, thinking maybe she’ll be fine – there’s a great many places to hide out here, and maybe she’ll find her way back in a couple days, or when her feathers grow back. I thought heavily of the dreaming hen. I’m also thinking, she’d better not turn out to be a few feet from the coop all day and make a fool of me. Clearly, she’s the low bird, and she’s determined to leave, deliberately getting lost. I’m sad though; once lost, however deliberate, she might not be able to find her way back is she changes her mind.
Now there are nine hens, I’m hoping for 7-8 eggs a day. Hmmm, only five in the boxes.
A couple hens and the rooster are suspiciously interested in a patch of tall grass, and there’s a lot of purring going on. I suspect egg-laying might happen there.
Today the chickens find their way into the garden several times, and H.W. chases them out, hollering and throwing his hat at them. This puts the fear of god into them so he only has to appear, yelling, and they flee, guilty and squawking from the garden. We need a fence, asap. The two loner hens follow much more closely to the others now, and the two that got lost in the morning are careful not to get lost again.
Night time, I go to put them to bed. At first glance, all appear to be upstairs on their own, except for one:
She jumps away when I go to grab her and runs into the grass nest where I found an egg today.
How many birds are still out? Hey, there’s the naked chicken! She made it back! H.W. comes out to help after he hears squawking. The sunburned chicken is very resistant to getting in the coop and runs all over the place before I catch her. Her sunburn is looking a bit better. Nice that it’s a run of cloudy, rainy days. We get them all in and do a beak count. Each nest has a hen sleeping in it.
Then, we find the day’s seventh egg in the grass, glowing like a pearl in the light of our headlamps. Ohoh, we don’t want to have an Easter egg hunt every day. I’ll try keeping them under the coop a bit longer in the mornings.
Clearly a cooler atmosphere is what the hairy little Silkies were missing in life. They now have shade or dappled sunlight most of the day, and they are obviously very happy. It’s nice and cool where they are, right into the hot afternoon. They get much more privacy now too, farther from our work zones (nearer camper). It’s fun to go check on them, see what they’re up to at various times, just doing their chicken thing. They don’t work very hard. Graze a little, writhe a little in the dust. High-stepping adventuring around, just a few feet from the coop. Lots of dozy low nestling in various places, making for a Where’s Waldo chicken hunt in the grass, for little tufty heads. They have nearly zero impact on their surroundings, being so small. They hardly eat any feed when they eat veg all day. Low cost. Very low maintenance. And low compensation. So they better be low cost, the little freeloaders.
It’s funny to lift the lid when there’s a hen settled in the box. It’s kinda like walking in on someone in the bathroom. Oh, sorry. This time, she was just keeping a plastic egg warm. They all lay in the corner box now.
The hens let themselves out to range today. All the hens. I made an ersatz coop extension so they could have a bit more shade and entertainment. It hasn’t worked in the past, but I did it again anyways, propping and wiring up some window screens.
Late afternoon I found all of them out, scattered about, very, very happy in the long grass. I wish I could leave them out already, but I don’t trust them to return to the coop at night, and they are not allowed to camp out with unsavoury characters around. The rooster was the only one remaining inside, not thrilled about it. Luckily. I opened one side of the coop, gave him some falafel, and he gave it good reviews; the hens came running. The ones that went to the wrong side (revealing wherethey’d gotten out), I pursued around the coop until they went in the opening.
Except for one (there’s always one), who lost interest and walked away. Trouble was, there’s only one path there, which I wanted to use too, and she was on it, and I was between her and the coop.
Scared at me trying to edge past her, she ran into the tall grass (waist high), which was really funny, as you could see where she was going by the disturbance on the surface, like she was submarining. She popped out of the jungle by the coop and went back in. Phew, uneventful recapture.
Will they go to bed on their own, earning their daytime freedom?
7:30pm. Silkies all abed, one big hen is roosting. I produce the stick, and it spontaneously occurs to two more hens to go to bed. I decide on a staged approach tonight, and give them breaks between stick persuasion events
8:30 Show the stick again. Another hen goes up, and one goes to the top of the ramp and turns around, blocking the ramp.
9:00 Clearly she was not convinced it was bedtime. Two hens and the rooster still down. Bet it’s the same two holdouts as yesterday. Gentle nudging persuades each hen to head up the ramp on first attempt. Rooster frets and dithers and head butts stick, but two steps onto the ramp and he’s on his way.
Ahhhhh, so much better. These hens are no problem.
I do not have too much confidence in this rooster. Not the brightest. I wonder what the Silkie rooster would make of these hens that are bigger than he is?
After finishing last night’s new chicken installation in the wee hours, stumbling tired and bitten all over, the crowing came awfully early. Uhoh. I was afraid of the duelling banjos effect.
I let the little chickens out for the day and the rooster (I’ll have to call him his name, Snowball, now that there are three cocks around) was quite worked up, puffing and kicking and strutting, trying to crane over the field to see the source of the new crower on the block. There were a few little anxiety noises out of the coop- things must be a bit unfamiliar in there, but the coop switch seems to have gone off ok. It’s going back in at night that will really tell: the ramp is a lower slope, and mirror image – do these things perturb birds? They’ll have to turn left at the top now instead of right…are they ambi-turners? I didn’t put any mesh around the bottom of the new coop- it’s superfluous except for confining them in, which we haven’t done since the first week.
For a few loud hours the cocks just went at it, back and forth. The (full-size, conventional, red?) new rooster has a kind of strangled, uncertain crow. Like he’s not used to it. I suspect that means he was a subordinate rooster. That’s nice; low roosters are quieter and often quite gentle and mellow after being promoted. Also, I thought the Silkies were quiet, but standing right next to the new cock, Snowball is louder, from across the field, which is something. Unless he was really putting it on today.
They worked it out (finally, blessed silence). Sounds to me like Snowball won the yelling match.
Zombie tired, I went to put the hardware cloth back on the base of the big coop to let the big birds out. Today they must be confined, to learn that they live here now. Maybe I’ll let them loose as soon as tomorrow. Through the porthole, I could see three still perching and four walking around inside, and eating. I tacked all the mesh on and dropped the ramp. By the time I put the stapler away, there were three hens and a pair of feet down the ramp! Very impressive. But then, these are intrepid free-range chickens already, used to a big world of independence. How long did that small step for chickenkind take for the purse chickens? Which, by the way, I think would be hilarious, to go around with one of these chickens in a bejeweled purse. Too bad I’m not really into the right sort of purse, and I don’t think any of these hens would be into the purse either. It would be a great bit of performance art or social experiment though. I wonder how many people would even notice the beak. It’s kind of subtle in all that fur. H.W. regularly describes them: “Just picture a Shitzu. With a beak.”
These girls miss no beats! The box on the end is the most popular; I’d pick that one too. The Silkies never went in that one. The (new) rooster appears to have not gone downstairs yet, and he gets very upset when I open the lid. Hens are all relaxed and unruffled when I approach, or open lid, or talk to them. That’s nice; better for my self-esteem.
The roosters talked to each other a couple of times during the day. The new rooster seems to be getting his voice sorted out; he doesn’t always say the same thing. I thought the tone of the afternoon exchanges was different than the morning’s rap battle; more casual, conversational. I’m a rooster! I’m a rooster too! I hear you over there, we’re roosters! Yeah, roosters! Uh… yeah, roosters! Roosters! Ok, nothing more to say!
The teacup chickens not only found their way up the ramp to roost in the afternoon, but when I merely opened the peephole they took off down the ramp immediately. Oh. Busted. We were just leaving! They were outside for their longest day since the first week, still out and about when I went for the first time to stow them, then put themselves to bed nice and proper, in late evening. Yay! Effortless coop swap. The first time anything’s been effortless with them. They seem to like it better too – at least, they jump off the perches now without a second thought. It used to take minutes, hours worth of thoughts, sometimes.
I was a bit too optimistic about the new chickens finding their way up the ramp they found their way down so easily. I checked on them about five times, “What? Still up?”, and left them to it in case they were used to staying up late, until it was really, imminently getting dark, and they were obviously getting dopey and sleepy. Time for the stick. They reacted totally differently to the stick than the Silkies, looking offended by it, pecking back at it. Fuck you, stick. One hen went up the ramp and thump, I heard her jump to the perch. The rest, arrrgh. Maddening. They clustered, jamming themselves in a corner, backs to the ramp. I blocked off the bottom of the ramp and then ensued a long, frustrating period of poking them towards the ramp. They’d go right to the top and then when there was only barely enough room to poke their heads back down, they’d turn around or squeeze out and jump off the side. It was like they didn’t think there was anything in the dark space at the top of the ramp, but when they got their head up there, you could see the sudden relaxation, in their feet. Ohhh, this is exactly where I want to be. Then the going to bed was an inevitability. Thump. A couple more went up without too much trouble, thump thump, and at the last there were two stubborn ones and a big galoot of a rooster. My patience drained in inverse proportion to the number of mousquito bites I sustained. There was cursing. Over and over the hens would run to the rooster, who wouldn’t go near the ramp. Finally I got those two hens up. Just the naughty rooster left, making me crazy. He was spazzing out, and when I finally shoved him indelicately up the ramp, he went sideways with his head down, squalling about it. It was like he perceived an overhead hazard, until his head got up there high enough, and just like the hens, Oh. I see. I don’t think they got too distressed (enough to matter to eggs), on the whole. Not as distressed as I did (dozens of bites). They were already getting sleepy when the fiasco started, and as soon as they were up they were cashed out. The rooster was the only one who got fairly worked up, enough to squawk about it.
Well, too bad. They aren’t allowed out until they can find their way up to bed at night.
A four-egg first day: WOW. I’m very excited for when H.W. rolls up and proper chickens have materialized! “Whaattt? Eggs!?”