Happy Peeps

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.