Happy Peeps

October 7, 2012


We lost two chickens last night.  We. lost. two. chickens. last. night.

It is sobering to me to see these words in print; I strongly felt that we had not done our job. The Man disagreed with me. We free range our hens, and found early on that they would all march back into the coop at dusk. Perhaps we had become complacent about this arrangement.

This time (it's been 2 years now), we heard some squawking out there at dusk. I ran to the window to check; we frequently will see hawks soaring above our yard and the chickens will squawk when they detect her. I scanned the sky and scanned the yard and seeing nothing, determined it was the chickens themselves. We introduced the chooks to the older hens a few weeks ago and they still squabble a bit and are still going through the stage of determining the pecking order, so the "arguing" amongst them wasn't unusual.

I returned to my spot in the kitchen where I had been having a conversation with The Man. Interestingly, it was about gun control and restraints. For people, not animals.

The sky hadn't yet darkened completely but was very close to it. It's not been unusual this year for us to go out and lock everything/electrify the fence surrounding the chicken yard at 8:30 p.m. when it's completely dark, whereas in the beginning, we religiously were out there before sunset, trying to shoo them in ourselves, worried that they wouldn't get in on time to escape the ravages of evening predators on the prowl.

Chickens began screeching again and time stood still, as we both jumped into our yard boots, grabbed jackets on the run and ran out the door. I was the first one out and upon reaching the fenced in yard around the run, saw him. A large red fox was in the yard and very likely could have been in the coop as well.  He was running around the perimeter trying to get out. I was screaming for The Man to come as I didn't know how to handle a fox. When he reached the run, the fox finally jumped over our electric fence (which was bad news in and of itself) and headed toward the road at the east (front) end of the yard. We headed into the coop to count the chickens, filled with doom. I was expecting to see a blood bath.

There were none dead in the coop and no blood or feathers, thankfully. However, there were plenty of hens missing. We had no idea where they might have been able to retreat in our forested perimeter, but armed only with our flashlights and a bucket of corn, we began our search.

An hour later, we had rounded up almost all of them, some of which had been up in trees, some cowering by fences, one I even found perched on the bench on our front porch!

And two, sadly, we found decapitated. As upsetting as this was, we had to continue our search, as three remained missing:  two young reds, and Oprah, one of my prized Silver Laced Wyandottes.

We split up to cover the entire yard more quickly; I was on the north side of the coop when I heard her screeching. It was Oprah and she was somewhere near the garden. We both ran to the site, sweeping our flashlights to find her. A fox was on her and due to our hot pursuit, he ran away from her toward the north of our property along the fenceline separating us from our closest neighbor. I scooped up Oprah and ran with her to the coop; she was alive and I couldn't see any blood, but she had a huge amount of feathers missing from her back; she was completely bald in one spot. I placed her carefully into a nest box so she could rest and returned to the yard where The Man was shouting for me to come with the flashlight. He had found the fox running up and down the fence and was going to try to shoot him. I wanted to shoot him myself. He had already killed two of our hens and now had injured, possibly fatally, Oprah. I was seeing red. The Man ran to get his gun while I kept the light on the predator. His eyes were staring at me -the light was reflecting off them and the effect was eerie. He turned his head and began to trot east along the fenceline toward the house. Not finding a way out, he retreated back in the direction he had come, and The Man took a shot. It appeared he may have grazed him as the fox jumped upon contact but then ran and disappeared into brush.  We didn't expect him back that night.

We spent another hour searching; I had blisters forming on the backs of my heels from wearing rubber boots with no socks; I had scratches on my hands from the barbs of weeds in the woods and briefly wondered about poisoned ivy, but realized it was too late to try to avoid it. We searched the entire acre up and down and over and over. I stepped over the rickety fence and headed down the embankment at the back of the property toward the golf course; (we are situated above the 9th hole). It was strange walking on that property at night. I had walked on that hole only once 6 or 7 years prior, golfing. I walked up and down the perimeter of the 9th hole shining my light into the trees to see if the two young reds which were still missing had roosted there, to no avail.  I had been determined to find them, and not to come back until I had done so, but it was clearly going to be impossible, and the thought finally occurred to me that they could have been carried off. Fox aren't known to hunt in groups, but we had seen the first one escaping in one direction, and the second had come from a complete opposite end of the property; it was very possible that several could have been involved and that one or more could have already taken the two young reds. We gave up for the night.

Oprah recovering inside the day after the attack.
It was so sad to go inside not knowing of their whereabouts. The Man bagged up the decapitated hens. I didn't ask him what he did with them beyond that.

He put up a trap for the night, in the hopes of catching a fox.

In the morning, thankfully, the two young red hens had returned to the door of the coop and were waiting there. We were never so relieved. We had lost two friends, but we had done everything we could to save them all.

Our methods will change, as the fox family undoubtedly see our property as a source of food now and return again and again.

We won't be letting the hens out in the yard for a while. It's getting colder anyway, and they have plenty of room in their run and coop, with all the food and water they need. I took them a nice big tray of warm oatmeal this morning which they thoroughly enjoyed. However, Oprah was clearly traumatized more than we had suspected. She was hiding behind a hay bale, but came out when she heard my voice, limping and with her head bowed. I gave her water and oatmeal which she ate and drank slowly. It appears her left wing is broken, and I'm not sure if she has any internal damage. I decided to keep her in the house so that the others wouldn't pick on her, and she is currently residing in a large cardboard box in the kitchen with plenty of cotton rags around her to rest on and her own water and food. I'm not sure how this will turn out.

September 22, 2012

Healthy Eggs = Healthy Mind!

Latest research from University of Rochester is showing that a mother's diet that includes choline from eggs (& meat, but this isn't a blog about meat, folks) may very well have a connection between the mental health of the fetus, even having long-term effects throughout the child's life.  This would be an awesome discovery and could change prenatal care in the future.

I think a photo of free range eggs like ours would be better for the article, don't you?  

Eat your eggs!
Be healthy in body AND mind!

July 21, 2012

Time for chicks

We've got a new brood of 12 chicks; they're growing so fast!  It's amazing how they arrive, not over a couple of days old, looking like so many dandelions that have gone to seed -- all puffy and round and soft, and gradually their "real" feathers start to grow, tiny little wing and tail feathers. The Man purchased these as a group of "brown egg layers" -- he didn't even know what he was going to get, and at this point, I'm not sure either!  Could be Rhode Island Reds with a mix of black and red sex links, maybe some buff orpington's, not sure.

Right now, they're living under a heat lamp in the basement; we can't put them outside, even though it's been quite warm this year, but they would get eaten up in a minute by the hawk, I fear. The grown hens might also peck at them (actually, I'm sure of it). We'll have to introduce them gradually. We'll see who ends up being "alpha" and taking over the entire flock once we throw in this new mix in a month or so. Sort of like "Survivor" for chickens. "All right, everybody, there are new players and you're going to have to switch teams!"  Yeah, always throwing a wrench into things at Just Laid Farms. Keeps them on their toes....all eight of them. Yes, for the uninitiated, all birds have four toes on each foot, with the exception of some chicken breeds (non-bearded Silkie banties, for instance and Favorelles, among a few others, have five). For the anatomy minded thinkers among us, the following is a nice diagram from the University of Illinois extension website:

Can you picture these digits on
a giant bird in the Land of the Dinosaurs?

April 14, 2012

Laying down on the job

The hens are a year old and with 13 of them, we have been gathering 9-10 a day. Everything I had read said that they lay about one egg every 24 hours. Someone isn’t pulling her own weight.

It occurred to me this could be a good reality television show. Not sure what I’d call it; but it would have to do with me installing cameras in hen houses and spying on the hens to see who is laying and who isn’t.  I mean come on, if they’re not laying, what are they doing?  They’ve got to be up to no good. Are they hanging out with the those good-for-nothing roosters from the other side of the railroad tracks? Sneaking off into the woods to search for wild mushrooms and then tripping out on them?  Or are they just lazy and being a nest-box potato?

I’ve seen a reality show where a guy installs cameras in restaurants and bars to spy on the employees for the owners, who aren’t there to see what’s going on. When they realize all the pilfering and partying and sometimes abuse of customers that’s taking place, they’re able to confront them and fire them!  Not before it’s all televised nationally, of course.

It would be very easy to install cameras in the henhouse on a weekend day when they’re all out foraging in the yard. Come sundown, they would all traipse back to their roosts, and then the real fun would start. I could watch them on a remote to make sure there was nothing illicit going on, and the next day I’d be able to see who was doing all the work and who was laying down on the job.

What do you think? Going too far?  J  Working on a name for the show...

“The girls” playing a game of tag and being lively 
(of course, they knew they were being watched). 

April 1, 2012

Easter Eggs

It's getting close to Easter, the stores are jam-packed with chocolate eggs and stuffed bunnies and marshmallow "Peeps" of every color,

  and it all reminds me that it’s time to dye some eggs.

Since we have an abundance of them, I'd like to try a new (to me) technique that sounds fun and a lot better than the usual technique of coloring them in coffee cups filled with Paas dyes, which for some reason seemed to require sitting and staring at them for hours on end, stirring them constantly to get an "even" color. I have a feeling my mother told us they needed this much attention in order to keep us out from underfoot.  But back to the present:  none of the eggs in my house are old enough to “hard boil” (which is itself a misnomer but we'll save that for a cooking blog). You see, I found out that older eggs are better candidates for boiling, as their shells will come off MUCH easier when you peel them. I'm sure you've cracked a hard boiled egg once or twice in your life and found that the shell would not come off without taking gouges of egg white with it! That means the egg was a pretty fresh egg; eggs which aren’t quite as fresh won’t have this problem. So, you start out with eggs which are older. But how can you tell the age of an egg?  If you have chickens, you know how old the eggs in your refrigerator are.  If you aren’t a chicken/egg aficionado and think this is all a bunch of hooey, try this:  put them in a bowl of water. If they sink, they're fresh. If they float, they're old. That simple. You want one that is somewhere between the sinking and the floating stage - standing on end is great candidate for 'hard boiling.'  (Now, don't put salt in that water, because with enough salt, any egg will float. Try that with your kids and see if they can figure out why that is, it's a good hands-on science experiment).
So let’s get back to that tie-dye.  

You need:

Old silk ties (or scarves, or blouses, but I’ll write this as if I’m using a tie)
White cotton cloth (old t-shirt will do)
String (optional)
Pot with water

Turn the tie over and cut it up the middle. If it has a white fabric lining, remove that & save, because you can use it in place of the cotton t-shirt above. 

Wrap up your egg(s) in the center of a piece of the tie; try to get the material as flat as possible against the egg. Twist-tie it closed at the top. Here’s where the optional string comes in. If you have it, tie some string tightly around the egg to keep the material as flat as possible against the egg.  In the image below, some are tied, some aren’t, and only a few have the white cloth on them.

Then do the same with the white material. At this point you have a nice, double- wrapped egg.
Boil water in a ceramic or glass pot. Don’t use metal, as it reacts with the vinegar. Place the egg(s) in boiling water with about a tablespoon of white vinegar. Then add the eggs.  If the water was at a rolling boil, you can at this point remove the pot and keep the eggs covered for 20 minutes, or, you can boil the eggs for 20 minutes. I prefer the former, because sometimes leaving the eggs on that high of heat will overcook the yolks.
After 20 minutes drain the hot water and pour cold tap water over them until they are cool to the touch, or simply place them in an ice bath for a minute. This step is important, because it stops them from continuing to cook. Overcooked hard boiled eggs – yuck. The yolks turn a little green. Still okay to eat, but not very good looking.
Now unwrap the egg(s) and look at what you have created!  Below are some photos of eggs done in this manner that I found online. (I currently don’t have any eggs old enough to boil!)
Silk Dyed Easter Eggs


March 26, 2012

Blogger's Dream

When I started this blog, I had envisioned a "Julie/Julia" kind of thing (if Julia Child had been a hen keeper and Julie the recipe blogger were me writing about raising, not macerating, chickens). But that would also mean I'd have nothing other to do than come home (early, one would presume) from my day job (the sun rarely sets in this vision), and spend my evenings playing with, taking photos of, doting on and caring for "the girls" which means feeding and watering them, occasionally raking out the run, collecting and washing the eggs and mucking their little coop wearing my rubber boots from LL Bean and pearls around my neck, then writing about it all in a romantic light, well into the wee hours of the night while I lounge on the bed wearing only sheepskin slippers to warm my feet and my doting boyfriend’s flannel shirt, while he looks on, lovingly, encouragingly even, and continues with his crossword puzzle.
 You see, my "day" job consists of 10-12 hour days, much of which is behind a computer screen up to 7 days a week, juggling (and missing) e-mails and dodging as many phone calls as I dare, running from meeting to meeting at which I am required to take notes, losing said notes a thousand times over but pretending to get them out to the appropriate groups in a timely manner, managing a brood of 40+ women who more or less are expected to run their own show but who I have to monitor to make sure they are completing required paperwork and meeting deadlines, ordering food and (believe it or not) picking up after others, cleaning the bathroom, making coffee, all the while being PECKED TO DEATH by the reminder notices that pop up in Outlook, letting me know how many days past due I am on every item....yes, I did just make the analogy of an unruly flock of chickens that I must take care of/feed/water (coffee) listen to and serve, at work.  Needless to say, I'm not usually in the best of moods when I arrive home, nor do I have the energy, to wax poetic about the girls, who surely do deserve a little more attention at this point, as does said boyfriend who by this time, is getting a little grouchy.

Yet somehow I think the home crew, who I would much prefer being able to take care of (except for the fact that $2.50 for a dozen eggs is pretty slim pickings and there're no medical benefits) understands that I like and need their company (boyfriend included). The "girls" run up to me excitedly squawking about their day, giving me quizzical looks and hunkering down in front of me for the obligatory pat, ruffling their feathers and showing off in front of one another, pecking at my shoes and waiting for the corn scratch that they know I’ll throw to them. So easy to please. If only they didn’t crap everywhere. Wait a minute… I get that at work too.  

March 13, 2012

Oh Brother Winter, Where Art Thou?

What a mild winter this has been! Our cold-hardy girls have been out wandering the yard in January, February and now March, and egg production never waned, averaging 9 eggs per day for 13 hens, (and that primarily because Beatrice & Eugenie, the banty silkies, had gone a bit "broody").  I absolutely loved walking out to their coop this past weekend, with my LL Bean 'barn' coat unbuttoned and no gloves, to gather the eggs and give them a little Eggo Waffle treat. On March 9!  Let me say that again - my coat unbuttoned. No gloves.  No hat.  No scarf.  Not yet the middle of March. Ahh....the simple pleasures of life, pleasant weather during months when we are used to extreme cold, a warm egg in the hand (worth two in the bush?)  Other treats this past week were a head of iceberg lettuce, apples which had over-ripened indoors, and applesauce. You should have seen them with the applesauce, they cleaned the dish until it was bare. Now that the weather is warming though, we're looking at our yard differently....areas which have become bare need to be re-seeded, and we can't do that with the chickens having full range. So! We've purchased some new fencing, and the plan is to give them a wide spot at the back, southwest corner of the lot, with full access to the compost pile. I will miss seeing them wandering up by the house, but it's for the good of the lawn to move them around a bit and quarantine them when necessary. More to come and pictures too.

January 2, 2012

Eat Your Quaker Oats!

This past summer, I caught several of my chickens pecking at a large piece of styrofoam insulation which had been removed from around our wooden hot tub as  it was dismantled. Horrified that they were ingesting this pink & white foam, I chased them away & removed the offending material, but this convinced me that chickens will eat anything, and therefore, can't be trusted to monitor their diet.

The only thing to do then, is to try to provide them with a variety of nutrients, especially in winter when there's not much to forage. Greens are super important, just as they are for you and me. I don't think they turn my eggs orange, but they DO contribute to their orange yolk color, which is why you don't see orangey yolks in your eggs from the store -- those hens are stuck in cages with their beaks nipped short and they don't get a diet containing fresh greens.  I have learned from others that you can hang a cabbage in the hen house and they will peck at it and it will provide them with greens for quite a while, so this week I will buy a cabbage for my girls!

Today, I made them some nice warm oatmeal with raisins - a first for them. They weren't sure what to make of it at first, but once they tried it, all of them were pushing to get into the bowl. Wilford Brimley would be proud!

I placed the oatmeal bowl in the tray containing their grit, which I leave out for them to eat when they feel the need. They can't properly digest things like chicken scratch without the grit.

So...Eat Your Quaker Oats!

January 1, 2012

2012 - Mild Winter

After worrying a bit this summer of how well our Girls would take to the snow drifts and frigid temps we have been known for in past years, I sit here writing this on January 1, 2012 with a high temperature today of 52 F!  January!  Temps in the fifties!  Needless to say, so far they are handling "Winter" just fine (though we do have a high wind warning, and snow may arrive by Tuesday). There was a day last week which was frigid for about 10-12 hrs.  It was 11 degrees and those Girls were NOT about to leave their cozy shack (and people call chickens stupid). Today though, they pranced about, playing with each other, running up and down over hill and dale. I took the time to snap a couple of shots.

Curious Gal

Our Silver Laced Wyandottes are good layers,
and the most daring & inquisitive of the flock too.
Oprah is so named for her bold nature and intelligence, and
that little bit of "bling".  I like to think she has
 chicken "life classes" in the hen house.

Fleet Feet
Unidentified black sex link hen running down the hill.