Because I want my chickens to be comfortable at all times (Spoiled Rotten Chicken Club, Ch II), when it rains I run out and drape their coops with plastic to make a tent.
This has drawbacks, not the least of which is that it looks like some old plastic bags blew through the field and got snagged. It takes time to put them up and tie off the corners, it’s a dirty job, and it makes it a bear to close the ramps at night and nearly impossible to get the eggs.
The hens appreciate it, though, they run and huddle under there when it starts to pour, so I keep doing it (since last year). And cringing at the visual effect.
Finally, I made the hen rain shelters I dreamed of! They’re very light (flimsy) frames, that are hinged on the top so I can easily fold them up, and probably store leaning on the back of the greenhouse when it’s not raining.
They’re made from fertilizer bag liners (neighbour), the same bags I was using before. The plastic breaks down in time in the UV, but the bags are free and abundant, so it’s not a big deal to re-plastic down the road.
The hens like the clear plastic because they can see shapes approaching through it.
Now at least it looks like I mean for them to be there.
I made three of them. Each coop gets a tent adjunct, and the third is for the guineas. We set it right over top of the broody guinea. Can’t hurt to keep her dry; all the others will happily stay dry if they can. She was angry about the installation! But got right back on her eggs.
We collected our pre-ordered 18-week old layers from the co-op today. A half dozen of them, to refill our stock. Three birds were lost last year to various predators, because I couldn’t get them in the greenhouse fast enough.
They’re cute. Really not much more than teenagers. Very slim, with tiny pink combs. We brought them home in two tupperwares, and fenced off a corner of the GH for them.
HW was all for dumping them out of the bins, but I insisted they be allowed to relax and come out when they were ready. They took their sweet time coming out on their own.
The first one, briefly called “Boldy”, peeking out.
When the chicken man was shoving chickens into the boxes of all the people arriving for their layers, he paused with us and said “There’s a weird chicken here. It’s all white. Otherwise normal. Do you want the weird chicken?”
Of course, I said. I’ll take the weird chicken. So we have one reverse chicken, white, with flecks of brown.
HW instantly dubbed her M.J. (It don’t matter if you’re black or white!) Oh, there’s another one peeking out.
At about this point the old hens, on the other side of the fence, began to take an interest, and the rooster started putting on a big show, strutting and prancing…
Since the tragic loss of the exceptional and beloved pet chicken Friendly last fall (I’m still sad), all the other chickens, indistinguishable in looks and behavior, have been just Chicken. Even Naked, once her proud new plumage got a bit dingy, disappeared into the flock.
Now that the hens have been released, there’s one chicken distinguishing herself.
Typically there are three hens that stick very close to the rooster. His girlfriends. They cuddle with him at night while the other four perch over the nest boxes. When he food clucks, the girlfriends dash up to him (as HW says, “Whatcha got, big Daddy?”), and the other hens barely glance up, rolling their eyes, “It’s probably just a stick again”.
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.
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.
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.