Happy Peeps

December 28, 2011

December in the Hen House

Let me start by apologizing for the lack of posts. I started a new job in October which requires considerably more time & devotion than even I had expected.

The hens now have a coop which has been electrified! (i.e., no longer do we have 100 feet of extension cord running across the back yard!) When I recover from my broken wrist, (fell outside a week before Christmas) I will take the time to write about this adventure!

It's finally cold & snowy here (December 28 has got to be the longest we've had to wait for snow, but I was loving it). The hens aren't sure what to think of it. Egg production has slowed slightly. Could be the temps?  The little hen house though is very tight and the girls remain pest-free and cozy.

That's all for now -- not a fan of typing one-handed!

November 11, 2011

Laid! (Eggs, that is)

Been trying to come up with a name for the egg business, and have had a lot of suggestions from friends:  Eggzactly, Ovum Natura, Great Lay, Cluckin' Good...and more!  But as I drove to work yesterday, a name came to me:  Laid!  I mean, what better than to have someone say, "I got Laid -- You Should Too!" in reference to their Sunday morning omelette!  Anybody else have a better name, let me know!  Nothing's final until it's written in stone.

October 9, 2011

Chicken Scratching

Inside the "run" which is the fenced in area attached to the coop, we throw a little "cracked corn" or chicken scratch, (purchased from either Country Max or Tractor Supply stores) onto the ground which the chickens will then scratch around in the straw to get to, thereby stirring up the straw so that it doesn't get too matted. Unfortunately for us, though, our yard being one long hill, eventually most of the straw does end up in a pile in front of the coop and we have to rake it back into place every so often. The corn is a treat, not their main diet; they have been eating a special feed for a while meant for growing chickens, and of course they spend quite a bit of time outside free ranging.

October 3, 2011

Chicken Rx

We had our first potential medical issue this weekend, reported by our chicken sitter who called while we were out of town to let us know one of our silkies (Beatrice) was not coming out of her nest box all day and didn't appear to be interested in doing anything. She's done this before and I assumed she might be broody, (Beatrice, not my friend) so I told her not to worry about it. We were in the D.C. area and there was really nothing we could have done, and I could not imagine subjecting my friend to an all-day chicken-vigil or vet visit.

On my first full day at home, I too noticed her inactivity and reluctance to be removed from the nest, although there was no egg under her. We wondered if she was egg bound. We had heard of this, where a chicken's egg would not come out. If the eggshell cracks inside, (and even if it doesn't) it could be fatal. A cracked shell can cut them enough to cause internal bleeding. Or it can cause a prolapsed vent or just even backed up plumbing.  That's all I knew about it.

So we did a little online research (the computer is the modern suburban chicken farmers bible) to find out what we could do, if anything, to help Beatrice, and found out she needed -- a bath!

We brought her inside to the kitchen sink (I lined it with a small towel so she wouldn't be standing on the slippery stainless steel) and filled it with very warm water. We placed her in the bath; she didn't put up a fuss really, but we did hold her wings in and held her in the water until we felt she was calm and then let go. She just sat there. She started taking some sips of the warm water, which I thought might be a very good thing if she was really bound up, and sure enough, in about 15 minutes she did poop. We kept her in for the full 30 minutes and then some. Drained the sink, towel dried her, and set her down on top of the towel where she could preen herself. She did appear to be having some pulsing movement near her vent, I thought she was either going to lay an egg, or poop again. But nothing came out.

She's resting now in a towel-lined box in the "library."  If she doesn't lay an egg tonight/tomorrow, we may need to do a little exploratory work on her, but hopefully not. Something tells me she will be fine.

September 18, 2011

Fun in the Run

Welcome! It's good to see you!

Feel free to make yourself at home...

(I'm a bit embarassed! Forgot to sweep!)

Belly up, ladies!


Have you met Princess Catherine?
She's not as social as the others 
(you know how stuffy royals can be)

Beatrice! Slow down and give a proper hello!
(Sigh. You just can't stop her when she's got her eye 
on some juicy couture).

Ah, I see you've run into Oprah & Whoopie!

They are always collaborating 
on something.

Don't let the door hit you in the vent!

Black Walnuts

Black Walnut Leaves with Nuts
OK so this has nothing to do with the chickens, but some days I'm lacking material. Thought I'd tell you about my first time this year of harvesting black walnuts in our yard.  I started to gather up all the black walnuts that had fallen from the tree a couple of weeks ago. If you haven't seen one, black walnuts come in a protective, fibrous green casing, making them resemble green tennis balls; their shape causes our nuts to roll to the bottom of the hill they're growing on (making them easy to find and retrieve, I must say). The process of preparing the nut for its final cracking though is one that takes weeks, I am coming to learn. 
Black Walnut & Husk
I placed them one at a time on the sidewalk, and held a sledgehammer over them, lightly letting it fall onto the casings. The weight smashed the casing enough that I could tear it off, revealing the nut in its shell, which then has to be tossed into a bucket of water and washed. You can also do this by stomping with your boot, but they do splatter a bit, and I had read that the associated splatter would stain anything it came into contact with, so I opted for using my boyfriend's sledgehammer.  If the nuts are fresh like the one above, I found them to be light in color.  I picked up one of them with my bare hands and noticed it had left a light yellow stain on my fingers, so wear gloves! As they begin to deterioriate, the hulls become black, with an oily-like substance on the inside around the nut. The roots, nut hulls and leaves secrete a substance into the soil called juglone that can kill other plants. This black, oily substance will also stain anything it comes into contact with, so it was commonly used as a dye/stain for all kinds of things. I'm trying to think of something to dye, just to try it out!
Some resources informed me that the nuts, once hulled, have to be cured, by drying for six weeks. In a video I found on Youtube, I saw a man remove the hull, crack the nut open with a rock, and then proceed to eat the nut which he claimed to be delicious. I guess I'll go with the curing method only because it seemed to be well researched.

I have some old window screens that I'm going to spread them out on and try to keep them in the sun as much as possible while we still have some good weather. Then they'll be stored in the basement on newspaper (if you have a lot, don't leave them in a pile, they have to be spread out) where the squirrels can't get at them. I don't have that many.

Does anyone have any comments on black walnuts, or recipes they want to share?

September 17, 2011

Time for bed girls!

The girls are coming into the coop at 7:30 p.m., the light is on a timer and will go off at 8:30, so I think we need to move that up an hour now, since they're ready to settle down. It will come back on again at 5:30 a.m. to wake them up and make sure that they have enough hours of light in their day to continue laying. You can see the nest boxes below and behind the roost; an old tree branch leans up against the wall for them to climb up to the roost and nest boxes. Princess Catherine went to "bed" a lot earlier than the others today; we're hoping she isn't ill.

September 16, 2011

EGGcellent Chicken House Design! Can you do one any better??

Saw this on Urban Chicken Lady's website (in my links) -- check out their site:  http://nogg.co/

Local Chicken News....as Reported in the Suburban News of Spencerport

Photograph and text by Walter Horylev

Sophia (8) and Gia (5) Triassi feed their hens in their back yard on Dean Road in Parma. Hen's names: Snow White, Roxanne, Lucille, Tinkerbelle and Repunzel. What started out as a 4-H project got them into a zoning law violation.The Triassi family had a problem. It seems that Parma has a zoning law, Article 10, subsection 165-82.BB, which states in part, no animals, other than ordinary household pets, shall be kept on any residential lot of three acres or less in any zone district. The Triassi lot is 1.6 acres. A neighbor’s complaint forced them to apply for a variance in order to stay within the law.
About two-and one-half years ago, April 22, 2009 to be exact, the Triassi girls, Sophia and Gia, obtained six hen chicks as part of a 4-H project. One of the chicks died soon after coming to the Triassi household. The girls exhibited a lot of interest in the hens as they all grew up in that time, even naming each one: Snow White is all white, Lucille is Red, Repunzel is gold, Roxanne is black and white and Tinkerbelle is brown and white.
On Thursday night, August 18, the Parma Zoning Board of Appeals met, with about 25 people in attendance. Three cases were dealt with in about an hour and then it became time to try the last case, the application of Robert and Lauri Triassi, for an area variance. There was some confusion about what kind of variance was proper and after some discussion by the board, Chairperson Robbilard declared that an area variance was appropriate.
http://www.westsidenewsonline.com/cache/mId/236287/1314664182.jpgSophia and Gia holds eggs produced by their pet hens. Each hen produces an egg a day.In all, there were 13 individuals who spoke during the public forum, 11 in favor of the Traissi’s application and two, including the complaining neighbor, against. His main complaint was about noise in the early morning and the possibility that the chickens were bringing in some rodents and possibly coyotes. Proponents argued that the chickens weren’t’ capable of making much noise and that wildlife is not uncommon in the area.,
After closing the public hearing Chairperson Robbilard probed the fact that the previous owner of the Triassi’s residence had obtained an area variance to keep game birds on the back end of the premises. The variance was specific on the number and variety of birds to be accommodated and she looked at this requested variance as possibly an extension of the previous one. Owing to statements made by the complaining neighbor, there was an indication that having the chicken coop further back on the property, as was one with the previous owner’s animals, would make the situation palatable.
Board member Tim Thomas felt that the new variance could be extended over the old one. He exclaimed: “There’s an emotional issue here with the kids being involved,” a feeling shared by all the board members. Chairperson Robbilard asked whether an 18 month extension was feasible, worried about setting a precedent. Tim felt the previous variance was something to build on.
http://www.westsidenewsonline.com/cache/mId/236288/1314664232.jpgAs a compromise, Tim, who is adept at phrasing board responses to applicants, proposed a variance with conditions, namely it would be a transition variance, good for 18 months, and the chicken coop should be moved so that it is no closer than 170 feet from the back of the house; that should occur by November 1. He indicated that this was an extraordinarily unique situation. Chairperson Robbilard added that this should be considered a modified variance and that it would extend till March 1, 2013. The motion was approved 4-0. It all took about an hour and forty five minutes.
Leaving the meeting Lauri stated: “Any reprieve for my children’s chickens, I am pleased with that. I’m very proud of my children.” Sophia was finally able to respond: “I feel happy because I love my chickens!”

When Bambi Met the Hens

September 15, 2011

Link to Mad Chicken Lady!

Check out the link above, I just started following her yesterday and feel a bit of a kinship where the chickens are concerned at least.

September 13, 2011

Chef's Compliments!

My friend Jane's husband is a chef at the local yacht club; I sent a dozen eggs home with her a couple weekends ago, and happened to catch him on the phone the other night. "Hey, your eggs are fantastic!"  (oh really? tell me more) "Yeah, I mean it. They hold up well when I poach them, the whites don't get all stringy, (whatever that means), "they have color, they have taste, they're rich.....all the things you expect from an egg but don't get anymore." (Chest swells)   "So you must be doing something right!"  (Well, I don't mean to brag...)  "I'm sure it's a lot of work too!"  (Yeah, especially the part where I run outside and throw food scraps into my yard.)
Just thought I'd share that tidbit with you. If you think of having chickens for egg production, you too will be raking in the praises. Be sure to reward your hens with special treats for all their hard work!

September 10, 2011

Watermelon, Please

The girls love watermelon. I bought one just for them on Monday, and I dole it out a couple pieces at a time. They run to get it and eat the entire thing so that all that will be left is a very thin core.

September 5, 2011

Scaredy Chicks

Spent the day with my mom today, and cooked up half a dozen of our eggs for her and my sister, which they raved over (you can call my family the Polite Ones, because no one ever says a bad word about anyone, but I could tell they liked their scrambled eggs, nonetheless).  The color of the yolks is so bright, almost an orange tint as opposed to the usual weak, butter yellow color of commercially raised eggs. And a very rich taste. (According to my nephew, this is because the fat content in the yolks of brown eggs is higher; he especially likes them for making ice cream and for baking.)
When I got home, I had purchased some farm-fresh veggies at a local stand, including a dozen ears of corn, so I took a couple of ears we had been saving for a week out to the girls. They were enjoying them and I was cleaning out one of the waterers, when all of a sudden there was a huge rucous behind me, with about half of the hens seeming to rush forward, (Foul, fowl! Off sides!) half running, half jumping/flying in the way that only rock-heavy birds with weak wings have. They were all making a racket; some had run under nearby bushes, one went underneath the side porch, and yet another hid underneath a third bush to my left. Cackling was going on all around me, yet I couldn’t pick out yet where all of them were located. I had a sense that some terrorizing hawk could have swept down behind me and taken off with one of them, and I didn’t feel comfortable until all were accounted for. Except they weren’t coming out of hiding. I called my usual call (Chickeeeees! Here chick-chick!) More cackling in hiding. I started roaming the yard to look for them and try to get a count. I found the Silkies Eugenie & Beatrice, thanks to their stark white feathers which stand out in the shadows, and the youngest chicks Princess Catherine, Oprah, and Whoopie, all under one bush near the old fire pit. I found Pansy & Violet under the magnolia tree.  Rose was under the porch and would not come out, no matter how much I sweet-talked her. Where was Grace? Where were all the black hens? Slowly a couple of the black hens peeked heads out from under bushes. One was hiding in the herb garden. Still, I didn’t feel comfortable. Even came out with some cucumber skins I had peeled a little earlier, no budge. Joe came out and joined the search. We were getting concerned; this wasn’t like them at all. “Why don’t you try the corn scratch?”  (This never fails to get them to RUN across the yard).  I handed the bucket to Joe and he began the customary Shaking of the Corn Bucket. They didn’t budge. They cackled on and on for a good 10 minutes before they would venture out to get the corn.  A chicken that won’t come for corn has been severely traumatized. By what, I’m still not sure. It could have been a large bird I guess, swooping into the yard. Luckily, all the girls were eventually accounted for, and my “short-attention span theatre” hens have forgotten all about it. Tomorrow they will wake up and think it was all a bad dream. 

Two-Day Take

I'm told we can expect our hens to lay an egg a day (or every other day); so far we're getting anywhere from 4-7  from our 13 hens, so they're not all laying yet. This is our "two-day take" -- as you can see, my standard size chickens are laying more eggs than my two banties, as we have retrieved only one banty egg (the light colored one above). I've read that this is typical of banties, they tend to go "broody" which means they only want to sit and lay on an egg once they have one, and are not as productive. So if egg production is your "thing," you don't want to go with banty hens. But I wanted to keep the white silkies just because they were fun to look at and hold, and don't really care that they aren't the best layers. They're like the "high maintenance" girls in the chicken world -- fancy feathers, bling, turning the heads of every cock around, and not really into work. That's my Eugenie & Beatrice.

September 4, 2011

Top Ten “Treats” for my Girls – because yes, 
even free range chickens deserve a little sumpin’ special every now and then!
The girls race to get the leftover artichoke from last night's supper.

10.   Bread slicesthis one is not a frequent treat, because we don’t tend to eat much bread ourselves.
 9.   Squashthis year I planted summer squash just for them. It’s a fast and easy treat, just pick the squash, cut it in half, and let them go at it!
  8.  ApplesI share mine after I’ve eaten half; too hard to resist letting them in on it.
  7.  Kashi Go Lean Crunch cereal (those bits at the bottom of the bag that won’t hold up to milk would go to waste otherwise)
  6.  Peaches – I sliced some overripe peaches in half and removed the pit, then threw the halves out in the yard where they promptly rolled down the hill (we have no level ground) with the chickens chasing them all the way. 
  5. Corn scratchthey love this stuff. We keep it in a red bucket and all we have to do is go outside and shake the bucket and they come running at the sound.
  4. Corn on the cobDoesn’t even have to be cooked. They will eat every kernel, they don’t waste a bit!             
  3. Watermelon– I admit sharing my watermelon doesn’t come easily to me, but once I saw how much they liked it, I couldn’t justify eating it all myself!         
  2.  Pasta – I wish I had videotaped them eating my leftover linguine. They went wild over it.

And the number 1 treat:  Toasted Eggo waffles (whole grain, of course!)  I toast a couple and then tear them into pieces – they barely hit the ground when I toss them to the girls. In fact, while I was tearing one up, Pansy jumped up and grabbed a bite out of my hand. (So of course I then had to get them all to jump for their Eggo, which they do!)

September 3, 2011

An Egg in the Hand

Collected these two eggs this morning.  The top egg is a bantam chicken's egg, while the bottom is from a full-size chicken.  Bantam's are half-size chickens, so their eggs are much smaller. Our bantys are white silkies, so their egg is a very light color. We now have one full dozen banty eggs, and 3 dozen medium to large.
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September 1, 2011

What's in a Name?

One of the first things I wanted to do when our pullets were just little chickies, was to name them; yet months later, I still struggle with whether or not we have chosen the perfect ‘handles’ for our feathery bundles of joy.  For most of them, we had to wait weeks until they were grown to their full size before we could see their true colors. Only one was named early on by personality alone, and that was Napoleon -  our short , tough, in-charge banty rooster. Unfortunately, we had to give Napoleon to a woman who has more property (read: no neighbors), as his tireless crowing became well, tiring and we had promised our neighbors we wouldn’t subject them to that noise. (Napoleon, if you’re reading this, we still miss your tyranny!)

The Silkies were the next easiest to name. The world had just witnessed The. Royal. Wedding.  I couldn’t help but see a connection between our silkies and a couple famous wedding guests.  Our funky, silky white banties with poofs on their heads that stick up at awkward angles as well as hang over their eyes, and feathers on their toes and shanks, became Beatrice & Eugenie.  They totter around the yard like two chubby little girls wearing heels for the first time, but apparently their wild head accoutrements turned them into the chicken yard bitches (proven by Napoleon’s possessive and slightly rough treatment of them).

This left me with 5 “blacks” (4 hens and a non-crowing rooster), 4 “reds” (really the color of muddy clay, but in the hen world, that equals red), and later, the acquisition of one Buff (i.e., blonde) Chantecler and two Silver Laced Wyandottes.

The 5 black chickens became the Jackson Five (except the rooster ended up going to the same farm as Napoleon, so that broke up the group, and we decided the rooster must have been Michael).  I guess I could call one of them Janet, but they're all female, so I need to get off the Jackson Five thing and find some decent names for them.

The reds seemed even harder, until I thought of my grandma.  Because Grandma had red hair when she was a girl, I had the idea to name the reds after her and her sisters:  Grayce,  Pansy, Violet, and Rose. They are our best layers!

Our three youngest are the ones I chose specifically for their heritage breeds, good nature, and cold-hardiness. The Buff Chantecler (blonde) is named after my friend Cathy, who chick-sat for them the day they arrived at the post office (and who is a natural blonde herself). The two Silver-Laced Wyandottes became Oprah & Whoopie. They're girls with a lotta bling.

So that’s our clan of 13 hens – a baker’s dozen as they say. If you have any good ideas for naming the black hens, leave me note.

August 29, 2011

What Chickens Want

In 2000, Mel Gibson played a lovable jerk of a guy in What Women Want, who serendipitously is given the “gift” of being able to hear women’s thoughts, and thereby understand how women think.  I thought of this movie today when I was watching our hens; imagine being able to understand what’s going on in those tiny heads!  The way they appear to haphazardly run around from one thing to the next, you might suspect they have no thought processes at all. On the other hand, there are those moments when they do something so comical it’s hard not to assign some humanistic quality to their actions.  For instance, about the time when they reached the laying stage, we realized they were instinctively looking at us as the roosters among them – when we approach, they go into a squat position, shake their booties and spread their wings out a little, getting into ‘position.’  Since we don’t have a rooster any longer, we thought what the heck, give ‘em a little pat on the rear end a few times, try to assimilate what it is they’re expecting, and see what happens. The first time we tried this, our little red hen stood back up to her fullest height once our pat-down subsided, and fluffed out her feathers with a bit of a shake and shiver. I wanted to offer her a cigarette. All the other hens gathered around her, making questioning sounds as she strutted her stuff (“How was it? Did it hurt? Was it good?”) It was so comical to watch.

But seriously, what do chickens want?  I don’t know about city chickens who can’t leave their small coops, but our chickens clearly enjoy free ranging. They call us and stand by the door of the run, and when I open it, they literally run out, with a bit of flapping of wings and jumping and even a half second of flying for some. Their greatest joy seems to be in grazing in the yard and accompanying gardens, and giving themselves dust baths wherever they can find a patch of dirt. They joyfully run after moths (catching them on the run I might add) and if they’re feeling bored, will chase the occasional robin who dares to walk among them.

They want social hierarchy, and they achieve it by being aggressive, pecking at any bird who is in their way. Hence the term, “pecking order.”  Unfortunately, our three youngest chicks, being several months younger than the rest, have never been able to assimilate themselves into the larger group of hens. They are told in no uncertain terms to keep away, and usually get the very last of a treat, if anything. I go out of my way to find them huddled under the magnolia, one of their favorite hideouts, and bring them their own treat.

They want places to sit, or roost, that are comfortable (2x4s work well) and the latest cool spot for them to perch is on top of the wheelbarrow leaning against the shed, but the hammock clearly holds a fascination for many of them, having found them perched on one end or the other, and sometimes walking across it.

They want to dig, and usually trek out to the farthest corner of our lot to the compost pile, sort of a mosh pit of chickens in late afternoon. They find lots of worms and spiders and other bugs to eat and this makes them happy.   

As Orren Fox, a teenaged chicken owner and blogger (Happy Chickens)puts it, “Happy chickens lay healthy eggs,” and that appears to be true!  Give a chicken what she wants, and she will reward you. 

August 28, 2011

One of our "Funky" Eggs

Half a Dozen a Day

The summer has flown by, and the hens started laying before I thought they would!  It started out with one, very small, very light colored, wrinkly "soft" egg shell. We kept it in the refrigerator and brought it out for "show and tell" whenever someone feigned interest in the birds. After a few days, it started to look like wizened old man balls (not that I know what those look like, but I imagine they might).  Anyway, after that anomaly, the eggs came one or two a day, got darker in color, and a bit larger in size, until the current production rate which is now about 5-6 a day, mostly medium to large eggs, certainly not extra large.

I also realized that the hen or hens (not sure if the layer, or friends) would cackle VERY loudly when an egg was laid!  The first time I noticed this, they made so much noise that I ran down to the coop to make sure that no predator had made its way inside. But there was nothing, only the hens who by this time were already in the run, so when I looked in the coop, I saw one very large egg and picking it up, noticed its warmth from just being laid, it's tremendous size, and the fact that there were "rings" around the shell. I felt like a ballistics expert --- "Joe, look at this egg -- I bet forensics could identify which bird laid it by these rings!"  (Too much television). We still have this egg in the refrigerator; (it's hard not to keep the evidence), and it makes me wish I would have had chickens when I was in fourth grade because my science presentations would have been oh so much more interesting!  Instead I showed up with dioramas of Native American roundhouses made out of cardboard potato chip boxes, Civil War 'forts' constructed from popsicle sticks, and my collection of butterflies, moths, and leaves. But I digress.

After a few weeks of very uniform, brown eggs, today we had another whopper (accompanied by the loud cackling, poor thing) but it was misshapen, sort of flat on one side, and the 'rings' in it were irregular as well. It was lighter in color too. I wish I knew which hen was laying which egg!  I'm not sure why that's important to me, I just wish I knew is all. 

May 29, 2011

Chicken Scratch

So I have 3 new chickens!  Yes, 17 chickens less than six months old weren't enough; I had to order 3 more. I rationalized this because we had recently "sent away" 5 Cornish Rocks for "processing" (trying to be politcally correct here, but it's impossible; I could just as well be Sarah Palin smiling in front of the turkey slaughter, according to my office mates). I also rationalized adding to my brood because I knew that we would be sending away the two ducks, and at least two, if not three, roosters. Plus, I just like acquiring things so it was inevitable that a few chickens would begat a few more. Just ask my boyfriend about my shoes. But I digress.

As it turned out, the three new chicks arrived at a fairly inconvenient time for me. I was expecting them on a Wednesday last week, so on Tuesday morning, I dutifully called the post office to let them know they should be expecting a package of living, peeping, warm fuzzies.  It went something like this:  "Hi, this is Judy ______, I live on "B" Road, and I"......at which point I was excitedly interrupted by the postal worker, exclaiming in a rather loud, but not unfriendly, voice, "Oh! JUDY!!!  (Do I know you?) Your chicks are here! They sound so cute!  They're peeping in their little box, are you coming to pick them up?" (Head turns around 3 times) Wha-wha-wha-what!????  "They weren't supposed to be here today! I'm so sorryOh my gosh, I can't get them, I'm at work, and we have a site visit today!" (A very important person was determining the fate of our medical institution's accreditation (not that the postal worker, or the chicks, would understand.)  I highly doubt my office-mates (or boss, for that matter), would be pleased with me excusing myself from an occasion which happens once every 5 years, because of a chicken delivery. It just doesn't compute with them.

I was the only person in the office at the time; office staff were coming and going , trying to meet the site visitor's every demand. I was pretty much the only person in the office who wasn't involved directly, but working, nonetheless, and 'minding the shop.'  I couldn't leave! It would be a half hour drive to pick them up, another 20 minutes to take them home and set them up, and another half hour to get back. I was doomed. Worse yet, the CHICKS were doomed.  I was sure they were going to die, and it would be all my fault.

Then I remembered that my friend Cathy was on vacation (at home) all week. Maybe she would pick them up and watch them for me until I could get home?  I have only a few friends who would agree to do this, but the chances of any of them being off on THE week they were delivered...well let's just say serendipity had something to do with it.  Cathy loves chickens too!  She was the perfect choice, the ONLY choice.

An hour later and several phone calls later between me, Cathy, Cathy's assistant, my boyfriend, Cathy's husband Bruce, and my postal worker, and the plan was hatched. Cathy would pick up the chicks on her way back from working with her master gardeners, doing whatever it is master gardeners do on vacation. She sounded thrilled to be chosen, and I was so happy that a chicken lover was available.

Two hours later, I had a voicemail message, "I have your chi-icks, and they are so cuuuute!!  They look hungry though; Bruce wants to know if they can have Cheerios."  I called her back pronto and was reassured that she had not allowed Bruce to throw cheerios in (not that two-day old chicks would have known what to make of them necessarily); but they had been given water and kept warm all afternoon and were awaiting momma hen's return home from the office.

Cathy dropped the chicks off to me, along with a white lilac bush that she had kindly picked up for me. The chicks were very healthy and Cathy had placed an old t-shirt of Bruce's in the box for them which they seemed to like. Not sure if it was the 100% cotton, or Bruce's scent, that they found so alluring. Cathy might know. Anyway, I told her one of the chicks was either going to be named after her (for saving them from spending the day in the post office with no water and no food) or she could name one. It was decided:  the buff chantecler, who was blonde like my friend, would be "Cathy" forevermore.

The other two are silver-laced wyandottes -- mostly black with stripes right now, but they will be a lovely black with a beautiful lacy pattern when they grow up.

I have great friends!

May 22, 2011

Ducks Gotta Go

The two ducks that we raised along with the chicks, were cute at first and we just loved them. But when they became a few months old, they started picking on the hens -- the meat ones. Those hens, I am told, were bred to gain weight 2 or 3 times faster than the other chickens, and they have, weighing out now at 9 lbs. The other chickens are half that weight, if that. Well, a 9 lb chicken is, in my opinion, the couch potato of the poultry world. Even their legs are fat! They have trouble getting up and moving about, but manage to get the feeder. So, these slow, ungainly chickens, caught the eye of the ducks, who became fond of pulling their feathers. At first it was just one or two here and there and we thought they were bored, which is when the building of the hen house began in earnest. By the time they were installed in their new digs and had been there for a week, it was obvious the pecking and pulling wasn't going to stop. I was getting pretty darn mad about it, but I noticed that the hens (two of the five) weren't complaining much, so I thought, maybe this is something that happens with the "pecking order" and I'll have to ignore it. Until today.

Today, I went out to change the water at around noon time, and spread some new straw. As I was putting the waterer down, I turned and saw, to my utter dismay, that the poor hen not only had her back almost entirely feather-free, but her back had an open wound and I could see her innards! I quickly grabbed her and ran to the house, calling for Joe. Long story short, we cleaned and dressed the wound, and moved her back into a new box in the basement, along with a friend who they had just begun to pull the feathers from. There are three more of these hens outside and tomorrow we will be watching, and any more feather pulling and those are coming inside also. We have no choice.  The ducks will most likely be going to a kind lady on a farm south of here. I had no idea that ducks would do this, nor did I think they were capable. I've never witnessed the other chickens pecking at these white hens (Cornish Rocks) so I don't think it was them; although they could have contributed toward the end. I'm sure once it was an open wound, it would be very hard for them to keep away from it.

Word to the wise:  carefully watch your poultry for "fowl" play, and don't think that this feather-pulling behavior can't or won't turn into something serious.

May 14, 2011

And Now

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You Might Be a Chicken Junkie if....

The first thing you look up when you log onto your home computer are chicken blogs.
Your chickens have names (and they know what they are)
Your friends/family begin buying you rooster-themed artwork
You think more about what snacks you want to give your birds than those you want to make for yourself.
You find yourself getting all your exercise constructing a coop, hauling water, feed, and bedding, and carrying garbage cans full of spent bedding to the compost pile.
The wallpaper on your computer desktop is a photo of chickens
You know the difference between a rose comb and a pea comb
You talk about your latest chickens' escapades at work to anyone who will listen
People start to refer to you as the Chicken Lady (and it doesn't bother you)
You sit down and watch your chickens for a while after feeding and watering them, despite the threat of a severe allergic reaction.

May 8, 2011

Chicken Olympics

I never thought that chickens played games, until one day in the not too distant past, I went down to share some leftover lettuce leaves with "the girls" (and boys). This started a cacophony of chirping and screeching, punctuated by some early quacking sounds from the ducks, who ate most of the leaves before the chickens could get at them. But one of the "teenagers" as I like to think of them at this stage, grabbed a bit of red leaf lettuce and started running around with it in his beak, trying to find a quiet place where he could be alone. But since they all live in one big box, and the only items in the box are the waterer, feeder, and a couple of broken limbs for perches, there aren't a lot of hiding places, and all his running around accomplished was to attract the attention of every other chicken. All of the sudden, it was like a game of "You're It" and they were chasing this guy over hill and dale (or, perch and feeder), and when they realized that he actually had something he was keeping from them, they started to work together, coming at him from several directions at once, forcing him into a beak-to-beak confrontation, whereby the competitor would snatch the lettuce from him and then the chase would begin again in earnest. This went on for a good 15 minutes at least. Watching them, one could imagine they were playing solely for the sake of the game, because not once did any of them just stop in a corner of the box, and attempt to swallow or break up the lettuce for consumption.
  It finally got a little confusing for them when the leaf broke in half and all of the sudden two of them were running around with the goods, which caused total mayhem, as they would run after one, then the other, depending on who was closest to them at the time. At one point I witnessed the lettuce-carrier run UNDER one of the meat-birds (yes, we have some of those too). He ducked and ran right between her legs! The meat birds are heavy and slow moving, and this one had a look of total shock on her face. I SO wish I had my camera on me at the time to videotape the nonsense, because this is one of those reasons I think chicken keepers enjoy these birds: pure entertainment value.

April 19, 2011

Chicken Sex(ing)

Well, turns out my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend purchased unsexed chicks (not separated by gender); so, not only do we have far too many chickens for our requirements, I found out that he did not purchase all hens. And it became very apparent within the first few weeks that we have more than a few roosters. We cannot have roosters unless we want to start a neighborhood war the likes of the Hatfields and McCoys. So honey-do is going to try to get rid of the roosters to some farmers he knows (keep your fingers crossed, please).

If you purchase your chicks at a farm store the way he/we did, you most likely will get unsexed chicks. You may not even get the breed you think you're getting. It's safer to order them online from an established company such as Murray McMurray Hatchery or mypetchicken.com; you can order the breeds you want and the sex you want. There's an interesting little video on Youtube of "Dirty Jobs'" host Mike Rowe learning about chicken sexing. Chicken sexers work at hatcheries with huge tubs of chicks in front of them all day; they pick the chicks up one at a time, squirt all the poop out of them, and look inside their vent to determine the sex. I'll leave the rest for you to discover when you watch the video. Just make sure you log onto Youtube first--- don't put the words "chick" and "sex" into your Google toolbar and expect to get only websites about chicken sexing and hatcheries.
Since getting rid of the roosters in our bunch will deplete our little farm, we ordered some new chicks (HENS only) online, and this time I was able to pick out the breeds I am interested in: Silver Laced Wyandottes, Rhode Island Reds, and Buff Chanticler. Go ahead, google them, you know you want to!
 Oh, and I was just kidding about the ex-boyfriend. I think I'll keep him around for a while. He is, after all, the father of our chickens. :)

April 16, 2011

Gotta Vent?

So, one of the first things I learned from the smattering of magazines I went out and purchased on chickens (yes, they publish magazines on raising chicks -- more than one! amazing) is that baby chickens can be a bit fussy to maintain. The premise isn't difficult: feed them a couple times a day (we do first thing in the morning and again after work) and that includes a special mix for baby chicks you can purchase at any farm/feed store like Agway, Tractor Supply, or locally here, Country Max. It also includes plenty of fresh water, and for both of these I purchased specially made feeders designed to keep the chicks from soiling the water and the food -- because they will walk over, on, around, above, under, any which way they can. In this way they are very entertaining and comical to watch. I've spent hours already watching these little gals/guys. But one of the things you have to watch out for is that their "vent" doesn't get clogged up with poop. You basically pick them up and inspect their behinds; the little hole there which spews all that lovely chicken manure (good for your garden) is called a "vent" and if you can't see it because it's crusted up, you have to try to get that cleaned off pronto, or they will get very sick and die. Well, this happened with one of ours and since I had already read about it, I sprang into action. I brought it upstairs and wet a paper towel and just kept moistening and moistening and moistening again....it wouldn't soften. I started picking at it a little and moistening, and picking at it, and moistening, and finally that worked, but it left my poor little chicky with a pink, swollen vent that was visibly throbbing. When I placed him back in the box with the others, they ran around pecking at it like it was some kind of worm on his butt. I felt horrible. Thankfully, they lost interest and he lived to tell about it. So yes, I saved a chicken's life. (No applause necessary; a gift card to Country Max would be nice though.)

April 15, 2011

They were just there one day, in my basement. Well, not exactly. My boyfriend (if you can call him that, we're far too old for such names, but to just say "partner" isn't very clear, and I run the risk of this "chick" blog  masquerading as something it isn't). As I was saying, my 50-something year old live-in partner for life (is that better?) decided to surprise me with a box full of baby chicks and two ducklings a few weeks ago. He sent me to the basement under the guise of getting dinner (what else? chicken) from the freezer. And of course I stumbled upon the live ones at my feet, in their own little avian tanning booth. And fell in love with the little fuzzballs immediately, allergies aside. They were so soft! And cute! And dinosaur-like!  (Really -- examine their legs and beaks closely sometime; you'll feel as if you're looking at something ancient).
It's not as if I had never seen chickens before.....my grandmother grew up on a farm, and created her own hobby farm as an adult, which we would visit annually. Here we came into close contact with all the barnyard animals; if we weren't 'friends' with them by the time we left, we at least had a healthy respect for them.
The chickens held some kind of fascination for me the older I got. I was drawn to, and collected for some time, anything with roosters or chickens on them. It was as close as I would get for years. I had imagined that some day, I would retire to a small farm like my grandmother had done, and have a few hens and a rooster, and a garden.
But 18 chickens??!!  And two ducks??  What was he thinking???  And upon getting them, we had no idea of the sex of these little warm fuzzies.
To be continued....