Me: walking with some tools in a bucket. I happen to be passing near the greenhouse.
Rooster: tall neck, warning clucks.
Hens: freeze mid-step like it’s Simon Says. Outliers start to creep back towards the rooster and the group.
Me: nonchalantly stroll past the hens, feeling examined.
Hens and rooster: excited murmurs- Was that a bucket? Psst, bucket! She was definitely carrying a bucket!Bucket! Whisk, whisk, whisk (the sound of chicken thighs rubbing together)- pursuit of the bucket ensues.
Me: sharp turn to see if I’m being followed.
Hens: Freeze! What? We were just, uh, hanging out. Right.
Me: Wave clipboard at them in lieu of hat. Hens pretend to retreat, none of us are fooled.
This was the very best day of 2015 so far, according to the chickens. A day above all days.
Freedom! Go go gogogo!
I’ve been opening the door for some time, but there’s just nothing attractive outside for the chickens. They don’t especially enjoy walking barefoot in the snow. The first really warm day, though, put a real dent in the white stuff, and the area in front of the greenhouse cleared right up.
We did night moves, transporting a couple surprisingly heavy boxes of birds (that’s a robust rooster) and setting those in the greenhouse to quiver and grumble.
Then we took the roofs off the coops (most of the weight is in the roof of each coop) and trudged the coops royal litter style across the field and into the GH. Reassembled, refilled with straw, added disgruntled birds.
I rigged up a length of canvas to separate the big birds from Silkieland, clamping the ends of the fabric to the GH ribs.
In case they peck at the plastic, I filled all the gaps with feed sacks. One fits perfectly between a pair of ribs.
I left the bale of straw, still banded, in the GH, thinking nothing of it.
I released the birds from their coops in the morning, then when I went to check on them a couple hours later, I found this.
That explains the worrisome silence, like ignored toddlers.
Birds are like “Oh, we were almost finished! We just needed a little more time. The bands slowed us down”.
Since the straw was supposed to last for a long time for refreshing the coops, not one morning’s entertainment for the birds, I bagged it up and dumped it on the Silkieland side, where I expected it would be much safer. The Silkies don’t alter their environment much at all.
Right on time:) At the end of the day I insisted on preparing the red hen’s box for the arrival of chicks- cleaning out her turd mountain and soggy food and replacing her bedding, and lo and behold, there was peeping! OMG, peeping! I picked up the protesting red hen to see and a wet little tadpole of a chick fell out, wriggling on its back like a turtle. Yay, a chick!
It did seem like she was unusually alert all day.
Another chick! A little spotted one, with markings on its back like a spider! Maybe one of the black hen’s eggs, or the red hen’s. Yesterday’s chick is white, now that it’s dried out and fluffy. There’s one more egg with pipping; there’s a little beak visible, but it has not made progress over the day. They are so, unbelievably cute, and tiny! One little chick is weightless in my hand.
Well, the results of the ambiguous candling are now officially confirmed. I removed all the unhatched eggs and looked through them with light again. The opaque eggs at 15 days were full of chicks, and the clear/translucent eggs were eggs either never fertilized or lost for some reason extremely early. Three and three. So the red hen is essentially at 66%, if I gave her three non-viable eggs to start with. The third chick died, and did not complete hatching, which is too bad. To get that close! I unpeeled the shell around it. It is indeed amazing how packed in there they are, and how well developed. They come out and they function completely- standing, eating, digesting, communicating. Amazing.
The two living chicks are toddling around and spending most of their time under mom. The chicks come and go from under her, vigorously nudging when they want back under until they get let in under a breast or a wing. She’s still in her broody bedded-down state, and I’m hoping she’ll come out of it now and start mothering. There’s no plan B if these hens are lousy mothers. I sure hope she’s having them eat and drink when I’m not looking. I’m worried about them falling into even the smallest waterer, and have modified a little tub for mom to drink from. I held each one to the chick nipple and forced them to have a little drink. In lieu of chick starter, they have a fruit and veggie chopped salad and cooked quinoa.
Adorable! The tiny chicks burrow under mom when they get cold, and pop out to look around. They bounce around their box and peep a lot. They glug from the water nipple like pros! Mom is actively participating, very loudly cheeping over new food, poking them under her. They’ve made a mess of their box scratching the food around, and every day I remove mom’s droppings. The chicks are so small their turds are about the size of a buckwheat grain. Although even these chicks are huge compared to songbirds, they seem so tiny to me compared to standard day-old chicks. Already they have their wing feathers appearing on their nubby little wings.
The temperature has dropped a lot, so winter is close enough to smell. The white hen must be due any day now. She went broody a few days after the red hen but I didn’t note it exactly.
After a day in Halifax we came home to a new chick! Already fluffy and poking out from mama’s wing, this one must have hatched early in the day. We prepped up a new chick box for the white hen and moved her and her eggs into it to finish hatching. Yay! I’m counting on more from her. There’s sure to be another chick by morning.
No new chicks in the morning:( I was at work all day, and the text message reports flowed in! A new chick mid morning! Another soggy chick in the afternoon! I came home, and OMG, one of them is smoke grey! One is very yellow! So tiny, amazing all over again. The eggs are cracked in half, opened around the center like a seam, expertly.
Just the few days difference between the sets of chicks and the growth is visible.
Now there are two mom boxes in the coop and the rooster sleeps between them. H.W. thinks he must be really forlorn now everyone’s gone.
It sure seems to me like they’re looking proud!
The white hen has 75% success. One of her four eggs failed as well, and similarly close to done. I cracked the dead egg to see and the nearly completely formed chick was sharing space still with some yolk. It must have died in the last few days. But three very alive, and mobile. The white hen has an amusing defence tactic. She lowers her head and lifts up her butt and makes angry noises. She tries to back her chicks into a corner and guard them like this. The chicks still come leaking out and hopping around, and it doesn’t do anything to stop me from lifting her up to clean under her.
It’s getting exciting! The red hen is almost due. We did a night mission to candle her eggs, as per the chicken bible. We were later than the midpoint he describes, but what we found: two eggs that look exactly like a normal egg (were they unfertilized?). An egg with a black dot in it (this must be an egg that kindled then died in very early stages). An egg opaque with darkness but with an angle in it like a water level (a mystery). The rest – opaque. The book says there should be a network of red veins through the egg, and there are dire warnings about dark eggs, that they are rotten and will smell horrendous. But…what if at this stage, the dark eggs are the ones with chicks in them? Because we were working fast to pull some out at a time and stuff them back under her before they cooled, we made no decisions, although I think we should have removed the eggs that look unfertilized. The results were so confusing I just left her all the eggs. Then I was lamenting that they have probably all failed, so H.W. got to gleefully tell me not to count my chickens before they hatch.
In the interests of continuing to let the white hen do her own thing without interference, we did not look at her eggs. My money is on her doing better, sans meddling. All we’ve done for her is lift her and put some layers of cardboard beneath her for insulation. The nights are cooling off. The days are blissfully bug-free and perfect for working, but you can feel the approach of winter. It’s late in the year for chicks, but I won’t argue. If they hatch, we’ll do our best to assist them in staying warm.
I feel like I put too many eggs under the red hen. The book said you can put 6 normal size eggs under a banty mama, so I thought 6 bantam eggs would be conservative. However, a couple of times I’ve seen an egg leaking out from under her, like she’s having trouble staying on them all.
Also, the book says the broody hen, although her appetite is greatly reduced, will get off her eggs periodically to eat, poop and bathe. Not so the red hen. She seems so determined to never lift off her eggs she moved them (twice) to where she could sit and reach her food and water dishes at the same time. Maybe because she “knows” she has too many to keep warm properly? And she eats, copiously! Every day she empties her little dish. This means corresponding pooping, and she won’t get off the eggs for that either, so there’s a wall of poop behind her against the side of the box. So much for conventions. The moment chicks emerge, if they do, we have to snatch them all out of there for a clean box!
The rooster is just bored out of his mind and won’t shut up.
The white hen got us worried a few days before her due date by appearing outside the coop. But she got back on her eggs after a dust bath. I just can’t take another day without a shower!
We definitely have a pet chicken now. She arrives at the camper early in the morning, shortly after the flock finishes their breakfast, and more or less stays all day. She stays under the camper when it rains, roams in the surrounding woods when it’s clear, and keeps an ear open for any comings and goings from the camper, upon which she will appear out of nowhere to lurk, staring up with her downturned beak/mouth perpetual chicken grimace. She happily eats of my hand, and if I put out a dirty pot or bowl, she’ll clean off any grains or vegetable remains (impressively well, considering she has no tongue), tapping out “chicken morse code”. We’ve deterred any other hens from hanging around our camper by chasing them back when they occasionally follow her out.
We’ve named her Friendly. The alternatives were Low Chicken and Baldy, because of her receding featherline. She’s bald to behind her ears because of being pecked on. Both options were rather unflattering so we went with some positive branding. She may be low, but she’s smart and independent. All the red full-size chickens are too look-alike to name, except for their feather patterns. There’s bald Friendly and Naked, the molter.
When her feathers return we’ll have no way of telling her apart. All of the chickens have unique saw-tooth patterns in their combs, but I am just not dedicated enough to memorize comb variations so they can have names. They only get dubbed according to their difference. There’s one with more white than the others (Whitetail), and for many days there was a chicken with one feather persistently sticking out at an angle (Wears One Feather Askew). Then three other chickens took up the fashion all at once and there was now more telling them apart.
Personally, I love the patter of chicken feet, but when all nine of them are hopefully shadowing my every move, back and forth, back and forth, it’s easy to feel mobbed. They curiously get in the thick of everything we’re doing, climbing in the trailer or on our tools and wood, or sampling the sawdust when we’re building. I can’t think of any good reason why eating (fresh, local, wildcrafted) sawdust would be bad for them, but it makes no sense why they want to eat it. Yet they do, enthusiastically.
H.W. gets upset with “them all crowded around, staring at me”, and threatens to throw his hat at them. His hat-throwing has made such an impression that he no longer has to throw headgear, just give it a cowboy swoosh over his head, and instantly the chickens turn as one and flee. Not the hat!!! Hilarious, and effective.
H.W. wants to put anklets on them some night. I know there are two hens that prefer to be on their own and hang out down along the driveway where it’s shady and kind of swampy. Often when I feed the flock an evening snack there’s only 7, including Friendly, and I always find two more lingering halfway down the driveway. There seem to be two that are always near the rooster.
Naked is growing feathers again, and just in time. It’s getting cold. She got worse before she got better, though, losing so many feathers she was just a mostly white fluffball of under-feathers, looking miserable on rainy days.
Naked regrowing, so fast! Good thing, it’s just in time. She’s been hanging around a lot lately with her shoulders around her ears, so it’s a good job her feathers are coming back. Now she is only Nearly Naked, and soon will be namelessly indistinguishable from the flock.
The little red hen was settled down on the coop floor again, clearly broody, so I got busy. I made her a cardboard broody box that fits in a third of the Silkie coop, full of grass and supplied with food and water. There’s a slightly elevated but shallow next box that I’ll put her and the eggs in. There’s room for her to get off and eat.
What eggs to put under her? Hoping hard that I got a couple of eggs from the poor black hen, I chose six eggs to put under her, including two of the original three she was setting on, which I assume are her own, also which are possibly non-viable, if she was on them long enough to quicken. All are labelled with their possibilities. The likelihood is practically an algorithm, but there’s a chance of 1-3 from the black hen, 2-4 from the red hen, and 2-5 from the white hen. Overall there’s a good possibility of 4 chicks. If she hatches one chick, I’ll be thrilled.
In the night I set her onto her clutch. Exciting! When I lifted her up I felt another egg under my fingertips in her belly feathers; I moved it with her. I’m not entirely sure now how many eggs are under her. In the morning she hadn’t budged. She’s deep in broody chicken trance, motionless and flattened out wide over her eggs. Yay! The end of August is late in the year but I think still ok. I wanted these Silkies for their broodiness, and now, they deliver!
Oh no! In the afternoon I looked and she was settled down on the floor of her box in front of her food. No! I’ve read they can have a hard time finding the right nest to get back into- hence the isolation of the broody box. Not only that, but she’d brought some of the eggs over with her, leaving three behind. The three left were still warm, so I just lifted her with the eggs she was holding and put her back on the others through some mild protestation. Her belly was hot! It seemed bare, too, like her feathers were pulled out or else spread out, so her skin was directly on her eggs. Now I worry. Does she know better than I do what eggs she should be setting on, what eggs are viable? Should I not be adjusting her?
After two days on all the eggs I come back to look at her in the afternoon and she’s back on the floor of her broody box, and this time she’s brought all but one egg with her. (H.W. is again heartily wishing for a chicken cam. “They have no hands!?”). Hmm, she doesn’t seem very good at this. Fine, she wants to stay there. I check the egg she left behind and it’s cool. Sadly, it’s marked as possibly one of the black hens. I don’t remove it then for some reason, thinking I’ll wait until the evening to further disturb her- I have to feed and water her in the night anyways. At night I go to minister to her and she’s collected that last egg out of the nest and put it under her!! Good possibility now that three eggs have been killed by cooling, but she’s in charge, and I’m trying not to meddle.
The white hen has simultaneously gone broody, bedding down in the floor of the main coop where the red hen did at first. Her I’m going to leave completely to her own devices. I don’t know how many eggs she’s on, but they must all be her own. There’s only the two hens now so they don’t need another separate compartment. I caught the cock sitting in a nesting box, presumably watching over his broody hens, solving the mystery of who’s been leaving feathers in the nesting boxes. The hens don’t use them, always laying on the coop floor.
The rooster has been crowing a great deal more, and even going on adventures. H.W. thinks because he’s awfully bored now. There’s nothing for him to do with two hens setting. He even ventured around the field, got in a fight with the big rooster, lost and retreated, got lost, hid under the house, and H.W. had to fish him out and catch him to return him to his domain, knowing I wouldn’t take it well if I came home and another Silkie was lost due to negligence. He figured Snowball had nothing to take care of on the home front so he came across the field to “regulate” over there.
Our beta Silkie rooster has started to exhibit some bad behaviour. Besides interfering with mating, understandable, I’ve recently seen him a few times pecking on the hens! Not ok! I understand he’s frustrated, but bad behaviour is a one way ticket to either the soup pot or Kijiji. He was also making a stab at crowing. It was an awful, pathetic, gargling (cocks figuring out how to crow are hilarious), but the prospect of three yelling roosters was sobering, and H.W. was threatening to “give him to nice farm”. I’m sure he’d make a good, happy alpha rooster if he got to have flock of his own, beta cocks usually do, so I put him up on Kijiji to give away. Since we are now down two hens it’s kind of urgent; the little white hen shouldn’t have to put up with two roosters each three times her size.
Someone made an appointment to come get him, but that very afternoon we were out by the Silkie coop: H.W. was just commenting that he hadn’t seen the beta rooster do anything bad when I caught him in the act. He got a beakful of the little white hen and she started squealing and struggling. I threw my hat at him, cursing, and he released her and ran away. I chased him a few steps, and then H.W. said “here comes the other rooster!”. From behind me the alpha rooster streaked past, taking up the cause, running and pecking and squawking.
It was awe-inspiring. We watched the two of them running off into the woods, hollering and shrieking, as far as we could see, while H.W. narrated. “Yeah! What she said! Dirtbag!” And then “They’re deep out there, I’m not sure you’re going to have a rooster to give away tonight.” Our Silkies aren’t known for venturing far from the coop, and are for getting lost when they do, so I figured I’d have to go after them. I circled out into the woods to get behind them. The alpha rooster was already back with his hen, her honour defended, but the beta was, predictably, wandering, and I chased him back towards the coop. Who did I unexpectedly run into out in the woods though? Fearless Friendly! She sure gets around.
The beta rooster got given away that night to a new flockster with a few (full-size) laying hens. H.W. skeptically predicted “they’re gonna laugh at him!” I’m told they are doing just fine. It’s either the shock of his life or all his dreams come true. Or both.
Today the dog chewed his leash and killed the small black Silkie hen. I was away working and H.W. left him unattended for barely a moment.
Of course I felt horrible. We introduced a predator to the farm and then failed to protect our tiny, vulnerable charges. They have a house secure enough for wild animals, and they’re attacked by a domestic one. Naturally the dog got “tuned” for his crime, but it’s his nature to hunt, our responsibility to train him otherwise. And a little fluffy innocent life is gone because of a mistake.
I’ve ordered a poultry net to put around the Silkies; it can’t arrive fast enough.
Same day, the red hen went broody, and I broke her up by accident! I thought she might be hurt, crouched unusually on the floor of the coop, and I stroked her. She jumped up with a peep revealing three hot eggs she’d been on, and when I checked later she was on the roost, not on her eggs.
In addition to the chicken making mulch cycle, I have a coop bedding strategy that works really well for me, and takes next to no time. The birds are in a pretty small coop, and they sleep all clustered together, so the night’s prodigious pooping gets concentrated.
The birds like to perch to sleep on the edge of the nesting boxes, and depending on which way they point, they might poop in the box. They avoid laying in the dirty boxes, but rarely foul more than one a night.
Every day when I collect eggs I toss any poop or soiled nest box bedding onto the main floor, and that tends to cover the night’s mess. If they get low I put in a couple handfuls of new grass, ripped from the ground nearby. Easy. Clean feet means clean eggs, so it’s important to keep the coop well-tended so the birds aren’t wading through their own poop on the way to the box.
Every few days, I cut down some of the tall field weeds (a few seconds with the scythe), and pile it in on the floor of the coop into a soft, clean, green springy bed. It smells wonderful, especially if I get a stray sprig of mint. Any handfuls of finer stuff will top up the nest boxes.
The bedding weeds dry out and shrivel up, becoming a poop and carbon lasagna.
Periodically, like once a month, I take out the whole black composting floor mat and take it to the garden in the wheelbarrow. It’s so mat-like I can practically roll it up. Anything remaining falls through the mesh that forms the floor of the coop. I add a layer of fresh green weeds and begin again.
To recap, I put clean grass into the nest boxes and throw dirty nest box grass onto the floor of the coop, covering the daily poop. Every week I put a serious thick layer of fresh weeds that really spruces it up in there. Monthly I remove the composting result to the garden.
I’m not sure what we’ll keep it going with in the winter. Perhaps I’ll just scythe down half the field before the snow flies. True deep bedding method means allowing the bedding to compost for months and shovelling it out in the spring. The bedding generates heat through decomposition, which is not a summer concern. My adaptation is just a super easy way of keeping the coop clean.