Tag Archives: free range

Profile: Athena

Athena is back at home.  She was loaned out this summer to raise some babies.

Athena and her sister were hatched last year and raised by a Silkie hen (they were the White Chocolates).  They turned out to be not quite leghorns- white, quite differently shaped from leghorns, but a little jumpy and high-strung like leghorns are. Early this summer, both of them went broody, but not at the same time.  Athena’s sister (Aphrodite?) raised a mixed set of five.  She abandoned them early, leaving the nursery coop to go sleep in the main coop a little before they were ready for her to do that, but they had each other, and were fine.

I had a friend ask for chicks, and the only way I could see to do that was to deliver them in the egg, with a chicken attached.  Athena was the only one setting at the time, so she was the only option.

Full turkey

This poor family got their first broody hen and hatch experience with the worst-tempered, most bloody minded broody hen I have ever had.  She terrorized them all, glaring balefully in a good mood, attacking viciously if anyone had the nerve to feed her.  They wore leather gloves to interact with her, and that was appropriate.  They named her Athena (I think they meant Artemis). She was horrible!

She spent her entire time, even after the chicks were all hatched,  puffed out in aggression.  On one hand, this meant she’d be a good mother, fiercely protective, but it wasn’t exactly a cozy and sweet introduction to chickens.

She raised seven chicks, and when they were done with her (and the people were really done with Athena), I picked her up in the night.  I was driving by after chicken bedtime, so I just grabbed her out of the coop and set her on my lap, and she rode home like a pet.  I popped her into the main coop where she’d always slept in before.The next night, I found her nervously prancing around the retiree’s coop, which I had already closed.  Do you want to go sleep in that coop?!  I opened it, she ran right up the ramp.  Ok then.  The chicken knows what she wants.

I noticed her all over after her return.  For one thing, she was as slim and sleek as anything, every feather in place.  She had one grease mark from being under one of their cars before leaving, but it didn’t take long to be able to tell her apart from her sister.

She runs everywhere she goes.  There is no stroll, lope, or walk.  Dart here, dart there.  She’s the last to bed, but unlike the “normal” hens who mosey to bed, already half in a dream trance, Athena would suddenly look up from active pecking in the feed tray, turn and run up the ramp to bed.  She’s a heavy walker.  She’s small, but I can hear her running me down on the trail.  Thumpthumpthumpthumpthump!

She’s working on being a troublemaker, too.  She’s started taking a copycat interest in the house, she’s figured out how I open the GH door for the guineas and gets in there for a quick scratch before bed, and when I discovered a chicken had been up in my window box scratching it up, I thought it could only be Nosey.  Because.

Then I caught Athena in the act last night.  I don’t even know how she jumps up there.

chicken drill bit

The Silkies have picked a spot to dig a hole, and are digging the hole with their bodies, removing the dirt in their feathers and shaking it out elsewhere.  Slow and steady.

They take turns, and now they have the hole twice as deep as this, so that they are fully below ground level. Odd little birds.Sidewinder unwinding in the pool. I haven’t bought them a bag of pro-mix outside of the greenhouse before because in the greenhouse, they are doing the work of distributing it for me to amend the soil I will grow in, but hey.  They need a bath in the summer too, what’s one bag of mix?   They enjoy it so much. 

Cheeps at the door

I hear them coming around, the cheeps.  They never stop chatting at this age.

I’m glad that the moms are starting to gravitate to the house and beehives –  the safe zones instead of the adventure safaris.  This is where you’ll spend your time when you grow up, kids.  Mooching.

The two of them are too adorable to me.  Inseparable, yin and yang chickens, not very alike other than that they (were) both loners.    The chicks float in one crowd with loose ties to their own mama except for bedtime and warming time.  Ghost, since she has two, has started perching at night with a chick perching on either side, poking out from a wing.  They seem smug about it.  Velvet ,with three, has to stay on the floor to hug them at night.

The chicks are at that miniature stage where they have all their feathers and all the chicken moves, but they are still just tiny little handfuls.  They have frowns all the time.  Dinosaur growth spurt dead ahead.  All the chicks seem to be baby Cheeks, although that was not planned this time.   There’s a Ghost sighting out the front window!

Velvet must be very nearby.  There she is!

Velvet and Ghost

The co-mamas.

These are the first hens to successfully hatch babies in the large coop.  Right through the heat wave, they sat on eggs, and I brought them water.  They would even switch eggs, so it makes sense that they’re one family now.  They only spent two days in the chickeries, maybe three, before release and integration.  Nosey visitorThey still had unhatched eggs, one each (they did not hatch late, they gave up on them), so the hatched chicks had a nice slow transition).Ghost scooted her egg out of the box to belly up to the food.  When they’re ready to get up off the nest, they’re ready though, and Velvet tore her whole chickery apart, every inch of the ground scratched up, letting me know she was ready.Velvet has three and Ghost two, but all five look like Cheeks’ bio-offspring, an accident since I gave them a mix of eggs.  Five of nine total hatched.   I can’t tell the five apart, but the hens can- look out!  They all roll together most of the time, though, so the chicks intermingle constantly.

It’s a really cute thing they’ve got.  Mom friends- Our kids are the same age!  They’re black and white, and they were both total loners prior to brooding.  I feared for Velvet’s life because she would just leave.    The little orange feet!  I can see where you are!They started visiting the house!  That was cool.  A noisy cheeping procession.  I heard them coming.  This is where we scrounge for snacks, and under the house it’s dusty and cool… There they are, traveling on together.  They like the bee area.   Perching practice on the jungle gym (laundry rack).  It doesn’t sway like a branch.  They’re up to the second rail now.

Early morning perching practice

The fuzznuggets have started perching.  They all keep the same schedule; I’m so used to seeing moms raise their chicks now.  First, there’s very close to home chickergarten, where scratching is strongly emphasized – Mom shows them vigorous scratching in loose material, clearly for practice.  Good fling.  Look at how well Daisy is kicking.

Second comes explorer time, where the moms take their chicks off, to some distance, for I don’t know what, world acclimation and exposure to strange and unusual things.  That is the type of caterpillar that tastes disgusting, but go ahead and try it.  We also do not eat slugs.    This stage gives me palpitations because they go off in the woods and I fear for them.  This is the stage they’re in.

Next comes morning perching.  I don’t know why it tends to be first thing after breakfast, and the chicks tend to do it on their own without demonstration.  They move higher and higher in the tree and on their rack as they age.  It started today.

Eventually they move into being more clubby with the other chicks their age and needing Mom less, then they break up with Mom, or she quits.

These are Velvet and Ghost‘s chicks (Sidewinder is still around, too). I gave Velvet several eggs, and then Ghost seemed just as determined, so I split the eggs with her.  They were a mixed batch, so it’s really wild that the chicks ALL seem to be more Cheekslings.

Whoa, WHOA! This balancing thing is hard!
I’m grooming too!

Notice the other one gone for a post-perch warming in Mom’s fluff.

 

Keet care share

The keets have been around more; they even got walked nearly to the house.  I hear their cheeping like tiny bells (they will grow into klaxons).  They already have dart-and freeze-in-the-grass skills, scratching, dozing, and following skills.  Little beings the size and weight of ping pong balls, walking, eating, pooping, thinking.   They’re so cute I can hardly stand it.  They are already surprisingly independent, with a noticeably larger radius of dispersion than two days ago, and the flock moves faster.  They aren’t obsessively dependent on mom at all, more that it’s important to them to stay with the group.I went out today and found a grey bird  sitting on the chicks in the cool morning.  The white (mother) hen came up nuzzling, like she was checking on her kids under the babysitter.  I thought awww, Galahad’s at it again, sitting on the keets.  Then I realized Galahad, who has been shadowing them the last couple days, was sleeping in the sun behind me.  So who the heck is this co-parenting?!

You guys have complicated relationships. 

Guineas are just SO lovely.  They have a different social system than chickens and it seems very evolved.   They accept the keets as tiny new additions that walk with the flock (reminds me of elephants).  The keets will run to any of them, it seems, and any of them might run and get a left-behind cheeping chick.  The males are super involved in keet care.

They’re so special and interesting that I just put up with the bloody noise.  Even that, though, often means something.  Not always, but often, there’s something they’re trying to say.  Like, visitors are on their way, put some clothes on!  They’ll come to the house together and yell at me, looking at me, then five minutes later someone walks up.  Don’t say we didn’t tell you.The white hen spent some adult time lounging away from the keets today, who were all with someone else.  Then all the birds were doing walkabout together with the keets flowing among their feet.  I felt very “approved of” that they let me stand so close to their pile of chicks.  When I walked right through the group was the first time I got a hint of mom flaring, reminding me of how crazy, insane cobra mom the last guinea mother I had was.  This one is zenned right out.

The other white hen was also around today!  Wolfing down food.  So maybe she’s nearing the end of her sit as well.

I’m looking forward to when she stops leaving to hunker down with them at night, and brings them to the greenhouse for bedtime.  I’ll need another laundry rack.

 

 

OMG KEETS!!!

I went out to feed everyone lunch and got stopped in my tracks by a tumble of new keets!  A whole new cast of characters.  I think there’s 13.  They’re hard to count.  Little white ones and brown ones!

We already have a candidate for the lag-behind

The white guinea hen is back with a hugely successful brood!  I’ve been seeing her at the food trays occasionally the last couple of weeks wolfing down food, at off hours, so I’ve wondered.   I’ve also seen her at the end of the driveway, where I’m pretty sure she nested – the others were making not very covert visitations down there.  That means these little keets have already had one heck of a long walk to get here.It begs the question, are the others ok?  Did they survive the rains and raccoon and other roving predators?  Are two other hens going to roll out of the woods (any day, since they all disappeared at the same time) with a baker’s dozen of keets?Galahad of course, is right at her side, rushing at anyone who thinks they might get close to the keets (which is usually the chicks, who don’t understand why he’s mean all of a sudden).  She gets to be all calm and serenity, with her bulldog security detail. 

OMG, they are so much tinier and more adorable than I even remembered- so small!  Having trouble climbing out of the pot lid:) They do  come out of an egg about the size of a Silkie egg. 

 

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!

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.   

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.