Archive for the ‘Backyard Chickens’ Category

Borscht for Breakfast?

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

Gathered at the Water Cooler

Yesterday was a 3-a.m.-to-11 p.m.-kinda-day for the old ducks of the household and, for our chicken tenants, it was a day of slim pickin’s, apparently.  On the assumption that they would be just fine (and they were, lest you worry!) we didn’t head out to the coop in the wee hours before we left for appointments in Seattle.  Nor did we check on the girls in the pitchy night when we got back.

The Well-loved Tetherball

First thing this morning, out I went and found the four girls gathered ’round the empty water trough, impatiently waiting for a refill.  When I checked the food supply in the coop, that cupboard, too, was bare.  And the cabbage tether ball was just about completely decimated.  If those girls WERE laying, which they are not, would the eggs taste slightly like cabbage?  Probably a good thing those nest boxes are still empty!

All is well now, and we can get on with our day.  I apologized profusely to the girls and promised them a new cabbage tetherball.  If I could figure out how to add beets to their game, they could have borscht for tomorrow’s breakfast.  Our Russian Orloff would probably enjoy that – but I’m not sure about the others.

Spied Getting a Retread

Meanwhile… it’s a lot of scurry and hurry around here.  Last minute cleaning, a little decorating, a lot of cooking and maybe, just maybe, we’ll be ready for Marta and Charlie when they arrive on Friday!  Then… let the Season begin!  (It would be really nice to find an egg or two down in that chicken coop for Christmas breakfast – even it DID taste a bit like the offerings from my old friend Peter Popkov’s Russian Restaurant c. 1950s in San Francisco…  But that’s another story.)  Meanwhile, we have photographic evidence that Santa is readying his sleigh.  Bring on Christmas, borscht and all!

While Farmer Nyel was away…

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Pre-game Treats

Tetherball!  Carol taught those chickens to play tetherball!  Or more accurately, tethercabbage!  It might be Erik’s fault.  He volunteered to come up and clean out the chicken coop while we were off in Hospital Land, and Carol asked him if she could observe.  So she’ll know what to do next time.  (Please God.  Don’t let there be a next time.  Not a hospital next time.  Not soon, anyway.)

Carol reported that Erik regaled her with chicken stories while he was mucking out the coop.  And he told her that chickens like to play.  “Who knew?” she wrote me.  “Not I,” said the Farmer’s wife.  I learned about chicken ethics from that Little Red Hen – remember?  The one that wouldn’t let anyone else have any of the bread she baked because they wouldn’t help do the work.  I thought those Feathered Ladies were all about work… not play

Ready! Set! Play!

But, Carol was intrigued and decided to convert part of their run into a tetherball court.  I think that was done on Saturday or Sunday.  When we got home Monday evening, Tucker reported that he and Carol have not yet been privileged to see a game – or even a practice – but about a quarter inch of surface cabbage is missing.  Apparently pecked away during a righteous scrimmage.

Farmer Nyel and I have been trying to think if we’ve seen any playful tendencies among our girls over the years and we are sad to report that we haven’t noticed a one.  They love to work beside me in the garden and they are very curious about human visitors.  They are not crazy about any of the four-legged sorts that occasionally come around, though, and we could make a good case for their skills at hide and seek in those instances.  Otherwise… not so much.

Game Aftermath

One of our girls is in full molt just now – a legitimate explanation for No Eggs on her part.  Erik also says that when one hen enters molting mode, the others are often sympathetic and stop laying in some sort of fowl support.  Who knew?  And, who ever suspected that our friend Erik was a chicken whisperer?  Good to know…

Will the real egg please stand up?

Friday, November 3rd, 2017

Wooden Egg Replica (l); Jelly Bean Egg (r)

We continue to be flummoxed by the flock.  If you can really describe four hens as a ‘flock’.  We haven’t had one single egg from them in months.  One did molt which might have explained her lack of laying.  The others… who knows?  We did get that one Fairy Egg in early October.  Since then, nothing.

Then, yesterday, we got a Jelly Bean.  In size, anyway.  It’s egg colored, more-or-less, heavy for its size, and so far, we are reluctant to open it.  It doesn’t look like the Fairy Egg did.  The Jelly Bean is much smaller and is not really egg-shaped.  I’ve done about as much research as I can manage and can find only this bit of rather unappetizing information:    the product of a situation where a piece of reproductive tract has been sloughed off and then treated like an egg, thus prompting it to be encased within albumin, membranes, and shell {giving it the exact appearance of an egg, just much smaller and generally without yolk}.

The Fairy Egg, October 2017

That doesn’t quite fit our situation.  Nor do all the reassurances that young hens often lay small eggs – our girls are not young.  Ditto information about old hens slowing down.  Our hens are not old.  In the chicken-world, they are ‘just right’ – two are two-and-a-half and the other two are three-and-a-half.  They should be in their prime.

They look and act healthy.  They eat and drink well.  If the Fairy Egg and Jelly Bean are any indication, they are not on strike, exactly.  At least one of them (maybe two) is trying.  We do not think they are eating their eggs – surely there would be some evidence left?  They have been mostly inside their run – no chance of a hidden nest.

Time for the stew pot, I say.  Farmer Nyel is not disagreeing.  I think it’s only a matter of time…

Wanted: Under-the-House Belly-Wrigglers!

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

Red House Cuzzins, 2014

Quick!  Before you kids get too big!  We need a few of you fifth generation Red House Cuzzins to come for an egg hunt.  But not in the usual nest boxes down at the coop.  Way too easy.  And not an Easter Egg hunt, either.  This egg hunt would take you into the secret spaces around our yard and maybe into the creepy crawl-spaces under the house.

As you might know if you or your folks have been checking my blog in recent months, our hens have not been laying much lately.  In fact, weeks go by and… no eggs in the nest boxes!  We don’t think the girls are ailing in any way – good appetites, good foraging skills, full of clack and cluck!  And we don’t really think they are on strike – no marching up and down in front of the house with signs!

Chickens On Strike

Our friends in Seaview have chickens and they had the same problem recently.  Erik thought that maybe, since they, too, are free-rangers… just maybe they had decided to lay their eggs in some secret place out in the garden.  So, he went hunting.  And, sure enough!  He found their stash – eleven eggs out behind a big clump of rhododendrons!

Erik and the Stash

I’ve read that hens like to lay their eggs alongside other eggs which explains why, even though we have three nest boxes, we used to find three or four eggs in one nest box and none in the others.  That bit of information makes me wonder. Plus the fact that I noticed a number of times this summer that our alpha hen heads right for the rhododendrons near the house when we let the girls out in the morning…  And, I strongly suspect the others follow suit later in the day.

Behind the Rhododendrons

At first, I thought that the area under the rhodies must be especially good pickings, bug and worm-wise.  But… maybe not.  Maybe it’s that dark, quiet area just behind that is calling out to them – the opening to the crawl space under the house.  I’ve scrunched down to see what I can see, but I’m too old and unbending to manage a thorough search.  What I need are some of you brave, agile cousins to scoot underneath and have a look around.  While you’re at it, you could be searching for other treasure, as well.  You never know what might show up under a 148-year-old house!

Fairy Eggs! Who knew?

Saturday, October 7th, 2017

Oysterville Bounty! February 2014

Had you asked me a week or so ago, I’d have been relatively confident that I knew a lot about eggs.  Hen’s eggs, that is.  After all, we’ve had chickens for years and years.  Ever since we were adopted by a pair of absolutely gorgeous young roosters that were so young we thought they were hens, at least for a while!  Then they began crowing and strutting their stuff and our ignorance became obvious.  That was in 2008 and we’ve come a long way in the chicken and egg department since then.

But, even back in 2008 when we bought our first little peeps, we knew that hens lay eggs with or without roosters in the mix. (Contrary to what you might think, not everyone does know that!)  What we learned about egg-laying is that it begins when hens get to be about six months old and will continue, for most breeds, for six or seven years. Hens have been known to lay for as long as seventeen years but not ‘productively’ – just now and then instead at the four-or-five-a-week rate.

Still Life – “Teaspoon with Eggs in Two Sizes”

We also knew that eggs come in a variety of colors, depending upon the chicken breed, and also with some variation in size (within reason.) and, of course, we knew that the shell color does not affect the quality, nutritional value, or taste of the eggs.  We didn’t know (but have learned) that some breeds of chickens lay more double-yolked eggs than others but, for the most part, this tendency has been bred out of modern chickens by poultry farmers who have been seeking ‘uniformity of product’ – no doubt for their economic ‘bottom line.’

Well… it’s not that we thought we knew it all… but still it came as a great surprise when, night before last, the only egg is in the nest box was about the size of a large marble – what we would have called a ‘jumbo shooter’ when I was a kid.  At first, I wasn’t sure it even was an egg, though I couldn’t imagine what else it could be.  It was the right color – brown, in this case – but with a rough exterior and more round than egg-shaped.  And heavy for its size!

When I brought it in and presented it to Farmer Nyel, he too was skeptical.  “But what else could it be?” he also asked and pinched it enough to crack the shell.  Empty!  And very, very weird.  Of course, I went online and discovered that these sorts of eggs do happen occasionally.  “Fairy Eggs” they are called!  And this is what I read on fresheggsdaily.com:

Nyel Holds The Fairy Egg

… also called “wind”, “witch”, “cock” or the fairly crass “fart” eggs, are merely a glitch in the laying process that is fairly common in backyard flocks. Smaller than regular eggs, usually rounder and containing no yolk, these eggs generally occur either very early in a hen’s productive life before her hormones and reproductive cycle are fully formed and working properly – or sometimes very late in a hen’s laying life as her hormone production is winding down. They can also be the result of stress or a disruption of routine.

So, there you have it!  Though… all our girls are two to four years old and should be in prime laying fettle.  As we so often comment… you never can tell with chickens.

Terms of Settlement

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

Apparently, the strike is over.  The four girls never did make their demands clear but their refusal to lay eggs for most of the summer – usually their most productive season – made it abundantly clear that they were not happy with their working conditions.  As of day before yesterday, though, they are back to laying.  Three eggs on Sunday! One egg yesterday!  After three months with only one or two eggs altogether.  Yay!

Not only was there a work slow-down.  There seemed to be a bit of a hunger strike, as well.  They weren’t eating very much and they weren’t particularly interested in their scratch – usually a treat that they’ll follow us back to the house for if we forget.  Not this summer, though!

It didn’t seem to matter whether they were locked up in their chicken run or allowed out in the garden to free-range.  No eggs.  Nor did it make a difference who was tending to them – Nyel or me or neighbor Carol.  No eggs.  Granted, they couldn’t count on which of us it would be.  It all depended on how Nyel felt or if he was in the hospital.  We tried to keep those girls informed, but they have a short attention span.

So… what’s different now we wonder.  The weather, perhaps?  But it doesn’t seem that different from many other three or four day stretches this summer.  Our being home? It’s been only four days straight, so we don’t think that’s it.  A bit more free-ranging?  Nyel has been letting them out every day to investigate the garden, but that’s not unusual either.  What is usual — the girls aren’t forthcoming about their change of heart.

I think it’s a combination of my scolding and Nyel’ Farmer s gentle concern.  He and I take turns doing chicken duty – he in the morning, always checking food, water, coop conditions, asking if there is anything bothering them.  In the in the evening it’s me, checking the nest boxes and doing a bit of scolding when they are empty.  I hasten to say, though, that I heaped praise on all the ladies for their recent increased output.

Whatever they’ve been holding out for, I’m glad they feel that they can now go back to work.  We are looking forward to having our first potato salad of summer – before it’s too late!  I couldn’t face the possibility of having to use store-bought eggs!  Which I did mention to the girls a few days back.  So… maybe threats work.  You never can tell with chickens…

Let the conversation begin!

Monday, July 31st, 2017

Only when the feeder looks promising…

I’ve found that talking with hummingbirds is a lot more difficult than talking with chickens.  Chickens are very down-to-earth as conversationalists.  Hummingbirds?  Well… flighty!

It’s not that chickens ever have much to contribute to the discussion.  Nothing too understandable.  But when I talk to them – you know, ask them how their morning has been so far or apologize for being late to collect the eggs – they look at me with heads cocked and cluck and chortle in a friendly way.  Hummingbirds, not so much.  It’s definitely the difference between being down-to-earth and flighty.

Chickens Come Calling, Almost Anytime

Plus… chickens are loyal (which is probably directly connected to the earthbound thing) and ever-hopeful.  They greet us every time we appear near the coop.  And when they are free-ranging in the garden, they join us as soon as we make an appearance.  They often work right alongside me as I weed and seem grateful when my digging fork uncovers a worm.  “Just for me?  Thank you!” they seem to say.

Hummingbirds?  Not so much.  They flaunt their independence, letting us know by their morning arrival times whether or not the garden is offering better choices that day than their feeder.  Sometimes, they are buzzing around before we can replenish their food supply; at other times, they are obvious by their absence.  Sometimes, their non-appearance feels like a direct reprimand.  (So, maybe I have to re-think their ability to ‘converse.’)  This morning, the reason for their absence was pretty straightforward – we are temporarily (we hope) out of their feeding/flight pattern.

Gardening Companions –

At some point during our week’s absence, their hummingbird feeder disappeared.  It had come loose from its moorings and had fallen into the rhododendrons below.  Yesterday, I crawled under the low-hanging foliage and retrieved it, only to find that two of the four bee-guards were missing.  More searching revealed one and then, wonder of wonders, Nyel found another brand new one in the kitchen junk drawer!  “They used to carry them at Jack’s,” he said.  “Probably still do.” Good to know.

The full feeder went up last night.  This morning?  Not a hummingbird in sight.  I know they are nearby… I went outside and talked to the rhodies and the lilac bush where they might be lurking.  “Okay.  We’re back!  And we’re sorry.”  I hope they get the message and we see them later in the day.  Maybe it’s not only that they’re flighty.  Maybe a little passive aggressive?  Personally, I’ll take down-to-earth any day.

And where is Dr. Doolittle when you need him?

Timing Is Everything!

Friday, July 28th, 2017

When we left the beach on a Thursday to get Nyel admitted to Emanuel Hospital early Friday morning, we probably had an inkling.  Our hope was that his heart problems would be an easy fix and that we would be home by Monday in time to meet our promised, neighborly responsibilities.  Tucker and Carol were leaving for Germany that day and we had agreed to scatter their morning wild birdseed and water the plants – small payback indeed for all the chicken-sitting they have done for us over the years.

We should have known better.  This was our third hospital admission specifically to determine how to treat Nyel’s congestive heart failure.  Each time, it’s been a bit different but, each time, it has involved at least five days in the hospital.  This time it was seven.

Mark in Hat

It’s always a day-by-day thing – watching the numbers, measuring the pressures and the fluids, planning yet another ‘procedure’ – and never with a projected date of discharge.  By Saturday morning, though, we knew we weren’t going to make it home in time to say “bon voyage” (or, more properly “Gute Fahrt”) to Carol and Tucker so… I emailed Mark and asked him if he could help us out.

Mark and Sandra live up on Douglas Drive – a short enough distance that they often walk their dogs right by our house on their daily trip to the post office.  I was trying to think how long we’ve been neighbors and friends – probably close to twenty years.  We met them at another neighbor’s house before Nyel and I had moved into the family house and before Mark and Sandra had moved here full-time from Seattle.

I don’t know where the line between ‘neighbors’ and ‘friends’ is, but in the case of Mark and Sandra it blurred away long been.  We’ve met one another’s children.  We see each other almost weekly at our Friday Night Gatherings.  They have been our most faithful House Concert goers (is that a word?) since the beginning.  We clap and cheer for Sandra’s amazing knitting projects and oooh and aaah over her clever jewelry creations.  Mark was a huge help to me when I wrote The North Beach Peninsula’s IR&N – especially at identifying photos of old rolling stock and locations along the rail line.  Plus, Mark has been the Go-To-Guy for any Oysterville water woes since the pipes were laid for our co-operative Water Company.

Chicken Coop in the snow

I was so grateful for his return email “yes.”  Before she left, Carol walked him through the chicken duties and when we got home last night and Nyel called him, we found that he had not only fed and watered the girls… he had also repaired a part of the coop that Nyel hasn’t been able to do plus he did some watering around our place, as well.  What a guy!!  We owe him bigtime!

Red Herrings and Midnight Marauders

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Toes Up

It started out a bad day for Nyel and it only got worse.  First, he didn’t feel at all well and when I offered to do the chicken duty, he readily agreed.  A bad omen in itself, I later decided.  When I arrived at the coop, all seemed well.  The four old girls were hanging out together, much as always.  But where were the new girls?

And then I saw one of them, toes up with her neck broken and bloody.  She was over against the hog wire fence and, oddly, there was quite a display of feathers above her, stuck to the wire and spread on the ground outside.

Guilt Free

“You killed her! I shouted at the Alpha Hen.  “Shame on you!  And what have you done with her sister?”  All four girls, Alpha Hen included, looked at me blankly – not with their usual interest in the scratch I was carrying, but not acting guilty or even weird about the chicken corpse only a few feet away.

I knew my rant at them was ridiculous and I knew my instinct to get Nyel was crazy.  I did both anyway.  Nyel managed to get down to the coop on his rider mower – walking that distance has become impossible.  I carried a bag and a shovel.  But before we did anything else, Nyel looked the situation over very carefully.  “I don’t think the hen did this,” he said.  I think it was a raccoon.  And he pointed out the small bits of flesh and the many feathers outside the coop fence.

I felt like I was in Chicken Pathology 101 and the forensics specialist was doing an on-site demonstration.  It didn’t take much to convince me that he was right.  We had looked high and low and in every possible cranny for the second new chicken.  She was gone.  “I think someone pulled her bit by bit through the hog wire,” he said.  And we both knew that Rocky Raccoon is totally capable of such a nasty deed.

“I’m so sorry, Big Red,” I said to the Alpha Hen.  “I should have given you the benefit of the doubt.  It’s just that you have a bad track record with respect to newbie girls. This time, you became a bit of a red herring I’m afraid.”

And, of course, there is always hindsight. We should have gone down to the coop after dark last night and physically carried those new girls into the coop, put them on the roost with the other girls, and locked them all in.  Instead, we figured they’d be okay.  We thought the old girls had accepted (or at least were tolerating) them.  And we were right as far as that was concerned.  But we were too complacent.  It’s been several years since Rocky Raccoon and his Band of Midnight Marauders have been around.  We had forgotten all about that possibility.

As I said, it was a bad day all the way around.

Two New Girls in the Coop!

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

Farmer Nyel with Two Girls in a Box

Yesterday, Nyel picked up two young pullets, all feathered out and ready to join our other ladies in the coop.  Almost ready, that is.  We learned some time back (and by bitter experience) that adding new chickens to an established flock is risky business.

On that occasion, one of our ‘old’ ladies – a Wyandotte and the alpha hen, apparently – viciously attacked a new girl.  The only other hens at that time were two old Red Stars who stood by and  maintained a neutral position. Farmer Nyel immediately separated the two new girls – Russian Orloffs – for several weeks, locating them so that everyone could see-bu- not-touch one another. Even so, the day after they were finally allowed them to cohabitate, we found one of the new girls toes up – pecked or stressed to death (it was hard to tell) apparently by you-know-who.

Bonding Time

Since the killer hen is still with us, deftly managing her three coop companions and continuing to be our best layer, Nyel is taking no chances with the new girls.  He spent most of Wednesday upgrading the coop-within-the-coop for his new arrivals.  It provides a small henhouse, suitable for eating and sleeping plus a chicken-wire enclosure – the exercise yard – through which the old ladies and new girls can get acquainted.  And make friends, we hope.

The new girls are Dominques and will provide yet another opportunity for international accord within the coop.  According to The Livestock Conservancy: The Dominique chicken is recognized as America’s first chicken breed. The exact origin of the breed is unknown, although their initial creation may have involved European chicken breeds and later in its refinement, some Asian varieties. The name of “Dominique” may have come from birds that were imported from the French colony of Saint-Domingue (today known as Haiti) and which are thought to have been used as part of the development of the Dominique breed.

In Temporary Isolation

Like all matters involving internationalism, a great deal depends upon leadership.  But, perhaps the Wyandotte has mellowed during the recent time of stalemate. Maybe she will welcome the new girls with open wings.  Meanwhile, though, we wait warily – an all too familiar feeling these days it seems?