On the way to the greenhouse in the morning, to let the hens out of the coop, I was surprised to find one lone, chilly chicken outside already.
What the heck? Obviously she roosted in the pine tree for the night, and it seems a rabbit came by as well. It’s just strange that she chose to leave the greenhouse at all yesterday, let alone not return to the coop.
The greenhouse was open a few hours in the afternoon, and other than a quick novelty excursion to eat some snow, now that there’s a snow pack the birds generally choose to stay in the warmer greenhouse all on their own.
Except for this one.
She wasn’t sorry to stay under the tree, either, making no moves to go back to the greenhouse even after her sisters started up the food noises. With the “help” of the dog, and cutting well cut up by the brambles around the tree, I caught her, stuck her in my coat, and repatriated 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.
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.