The chickens have done their anthill number on a new anthill, this time right by our main path; practically on it.
Whenever we walk by, they eyeball us Am I really gonna have to get up? Soooo comfortable…, and then at the last minute scoot away into the brush trailing a puff of dust, like Pigpen.
It’s especially funny catching the rooster thrashing around in the dust bowl, all unkempt. It’s usually a conjugal event, if the rooster’s involved, and then both birds look up at you like they were busted in the bathtub together – which in fact, they are.
The new hens have integrated pretty thoroughly now. They don’t completely mingle with the old hens, but some spend their days with the big sisters, and they go in the woods, and all forage outside like they were meant to. They love being invisible in the shrubs during the day.
Their combs are growing, and they are filling out, and the dark brown that they all used to be is lightening a little. Aw, they’re growing up.
They are laying like nobody’s business, perfect, small brown eggs.
And they are developing their own quirky chicken habits.
MJ has taken to hopping over the fence and hanging out with the Silkies.
She’s like, I’m white, too, this is obviously where I belong.
It started with her being an enterprising food thief and a good flyer, while the flocks were still in the greenhouse. She would cross the divide to steal food, because the Silkies eat like, well, birds, and never finish their ration.
But she seems to prefer the company of the Silkies, and is often to be found of an afternoon lounging with them under the pine tree.
We filled the greenhouse with wood chips to cover the bare and compacted “soil” in there, until we can get to it, so it smells like a sawmill in there now.
For now the birds are allowed in there still, and they shelter there when it rains.
Now they are hopping around outside and lounging in the sun, or the shade. The red hen loves the little pine tree. I saw the first time she got into it: lots of dipping and hopping while she was looking up into the branches. I was like, what is she doing?
Then she leapt up, and maybe she surprised herself, because she squawked and hollered about it even as she looked quite comfortable settling on a branch next to the trunk.
Then I forgot to check the coop for complete contents when I closed them at night. I woke later with a start, remembering, went out, and sure enough, she was still in the tree. Nearly invisible but for her bright black eye when I parted the branches with my flashlight.
I’ve gone out a couple times since and the other Silkies are in evidence, but no red hen. Where the heck is she? Sprinkle some food, and boop, she hops out of the tree and comes running.
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.
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.
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.
I started letting the chickens out into the wide world when I got back, because they have to learn sometime. I’d open the main door and just leave it open and wait. For hours they only poked their heads out, until one of the roosters got jostled and fell out, with much squawking. Over the first few days, they slowly ventured a few feet away from the coop.
That was fraught with anxiety for me. At first I only did it while I was around, all scared of all the threats they would encounter, with no street smarts at all! But they seem to be ok. I’ve seen them practically interacting with the ravens, whom they are about the same size as now, the bear has rolled through, as have the neighbor’s dogs, and there have been no losses.
At first, every morning when I opened their hatch the roosters would tumble out and stand there wide legged, blinking, and shake their necks out.