Archive for the ‘Backyard Chickens’ Category

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

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?

Lest We Think Otherwise

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

Nest at our Front Door

No matter how vigilant we are, our ‘feathered’ friends seem to be having their way with us.  Much like our current ‘leaders’ in the Other Washington?  Well, the comparison is probably a stretch – a flight of fancy you might say –  but the thought occurs all too frequently.

Take our local visiting barn swallows.  They have been trying for a month or more to build nests on our house.  Usually, we have allowed them to do so in the back-forty just outside the kitchen window.  But this year that area is scheduled to be painted, so every day Nyel hoses down the first nest-building efforts.  And every day, the swallows – three pair and three nests – go back to work within minutes.  Cheeky little critters.  And they don’t get it that they are not welcome.  Not at all.  Public opinion means nothing to them.

Nest Close-up — Hurriedly done?

They’ve also been trying to build on the lintel directly above our front door.  Ditto all the above concerning Nyel and his Garden Hose Discouragement Program.  On Sunday when we were gone for the afternoon doing necessary new car business, those Front Door Swallows managed to build their entire nest.  By the time we got home it was a “done deal” and they were sitting proudly (and threateningly) nearby.  Persistent (if a bit stupid) to the max.

There is some dissention in the main household about taking down a completed nest – it’s a Venus vs Mars thing.  I think that once the nest is complete and the eggs about to be placed within, we humans have to let nature take its course.  Nyel… not so much.  We’ll see how it plays out.  I keep mentioning that the swallow couple have actually made a few compromises – the nest is not exactly over the main in-an-out traffic area.  So far, I don’t think I’m being heard.

Svetlana Checking Out Compost Area

Then there are the chickens.  We have been keeping them in their run, locked away from the rest of the garden during this tender-new-plant part of the year.  But yesterday, here came the Russian Orloff, bold as bold.  An inspection of the run revealed a big hole in the hog wire, probably the accomplishment of our local henhouse hacker, Rocky Raccoon.  The other three girls (perhaps not quite as bright as Svetlana) had not noticed and were still where they belonged.

While Nyel repaired the damage and made things secure, I tried to entice Ms. Svetlana back to the coop, but she was having none of it.  She successfully evaded me from one area of the yard to the next and it took Farmer Nyel to finally trick her back into the run.  I’m not sure if détente with the Russian will last – she’s a sneaky one.

Hummingbird Vigilante

Meanwhile, the hummingbirds have taken to looking for us when their feeder is empty.  They come to windows all around the house – wherever we are, they show up with their hovering trick.  And, as if that isn’t enough, they sometimes tap their beak against the window pane!  Of course, we drop everything and all but salute and click our heels.  I wonder how much sugar we go through in a season.

Peaceful co-existence is difficult here in the Springtime.  We can only hope that it doesn’t escalate during the long, hot summer.  One thing though… it’s never dull.

Of bonnets and bunnies and Easter bounty…

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

Easter Sunrise

This morning’s sunrise over the bay was a gentle glow, not a spectacular splash like sometimes.  The new flags in the churchyard waved in a breeze that promised one of those ‘variable days’ weather-wise for this Easter Sunday of 2017.  A veritable hang-onto-your-hat day during that imaginary Easter Parade at the Beach.

At least, I think it’s imaginary.  Although the Easter Parade still happens in New York and in many other cities besides, it’s one festival I’ve never heard of here at the beach. Church services and clam digs and egg hunts, yes.  But no Easter Parade.  Probably the iffy-ness of Eastertime weather is the reason.

Churchyard, Easter 2017

Now that there aren’t any regular services in the Oysterville Church – not since the 1930s my mother said – and nothing special planned for Easter, we won’t even get the pleasure of seeing a procession of fancy hats going past our house for a service.  Not that most women actually wear hats anymore – not even to church.  Every once in a while, someone wears a hat to our Music Vespers services in the summer and I always hope it’s a fashion statement that will make a resurgence.  So far, though… not so much.

However, I’m happy to say that my cousins at the Red House are planning a little egg-hunt-around-town for later today.  Our girls in the coop even contributed some of eggs to that endeavor – three brown eggs collected by eight-year-old Ginger first thing Friday morning!

Oysterville Bounty!

Like her mom Abby, her late grandma Beeg, and her (before-she-was-born) great-grandma Barbara, Gin is one of the ‘visiting’ cousins.  I’m never quite sure if it’s the chickens or her elderly cousins she really wants to see, but she never fails to ring the bell, accept our invitation to come into the house and then sit in the library for ‘a good and proper visit’ before she checks the nest boxes at the coop!  What a gal!

As for Easter Dinner… we’ve been invited out!  “We’ll start with oysters, hors d’oeuvres, bubbles and bloodies” wrote our host, and then proceed to a meal “loosely based on the Easter feasts I remember growing up, but with about four fewer courses.”

I can’t wait!

Spontanaeity — Not My Middle Name!

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

Garden Helper

For a wonder, I actually worked out in the garden yesterday and accomplished more than I had anticipated.  I credit Mike’s weather forecast.  I had counted on a partly sunny day with temperatures in the 50s and that’s what we got.  Yay!  As the chickens and I scratched and dug in the flower beds, I considered the whole ‘planning aspect’ of things.

‘Plan your work and work your plan’ was always my motto as a classroom teacher.  It’s pretty much how I operate in all aspects of my life.   Being spontaneous is not easy for me.  Doing anything ‘all of a sudden’ disrupts my intentions and, quite frankly, throws me for a loop.

I blame my California upbringing for that particular personality trait – especially with regard to weather.  In California, at least in the Bay Area where I lived during most of my formative years, you can pretty much count on the weather year-round.  Cooler, of course, during the winter months and with the occasional rainy day.  But San Francisco rain does not compare to what we have here at the beach.  It’s very unusual for a bit of ‘weather’ to interfere with plans in the environs of the City by the Golden Gate.  Grab an umbrella and off you go.

The Northwest… not so much.  When the sun comes out unexpectedly, spontaneity rules.  Shorts appear – never mind the temperature – a pick-up picnic might occur and, most assuredly, a bike ride or a hike is an immediate option.  On the other hand, plans seldom change because of a stormy day.  Northwesteners are spontaneous about good weather but not wussy about the bad.

The Peck-and-Scratch Method

I blame my unkempt garden on my lack of spontaneity (and maybe on the chickens).  First, it goes without saying that I am a fair-weather gardener.  I don’t muck around in the dirt (ahem! soil) when it’s raining and certainly not when its windy.  Second, even under perfect conditions, gardening isn’t high on my priority list.  Nothing outside is.  I’d rather be writing or reading or researching or doing almost anything that isn’t outside.  So… in order to accomplish anything at all in the garden requires careful planning and setting aside specific time slots.

Well… you see the problem. Obviously, yesterday was a sort of minor miracle.  And the girls and I actually accomplished quite a bit.  Mike’s weather says that today will be “Mostly sunny, with a high near 54. North wind around 3 mph.”  Wow!  Perfect.  I’ll probably be out there again.  But no shorts!