Archive for the ‘Backyard Chickens’ Category

Check, Double-Check, And We’re Off!

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

5:00 A.M. Alarm — CHECK!

Up, bathed, coiffed — CHECK!

Aunt Rye with Banty Chicks c. 1940

Pills taken, breakfast eaten — CHECK!

Chickens fed and watered — CHECK!

Lunches made, thermos of decaf filled — CHECK!

Books for inevitable waits ready — CHECK!

Car packed  — CHECK!

7:00 a.m. off to Seattle — CHECK!

We hope and pray that this specialist has some

Oysterville Stagecoach c 1880

positive suggestions for Nyel’s “next steps.”  It sure will be worth this and every other up-and-back trip to Seattle no-matter-what-and-weather-be-damned!  Cross your fingers for us!

But… does that apply to chickens?

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

“Joy of Life” by Ni  Mao 

“There is a fine line between a genius and an idiot…” begins a quote by Ni Mao,  (or sometimes written Mao Ni) who is a Chinese author of xianxia novels.  I am totally unfamiliar with that genre or with author Ni Mao (or Mao Ni, as the case may be) either, but I really like the sentiment.  Especially when it comes to chickens.

Specifically, I’m talking about Snowhite here.  You may remember that she is the chicken who was pecked almost to death by her chick-mate when they were still hatchlings living under a heat lamp in our back forty.  For whatever reason, a somewhat older black chick — a bit bigger but still just a ball of fluff — took an aversion to Snowhite and pecked the top of her head down to the bone.  (Black Bart turned out to be a rooster that had to be re-homed with the help of the Auction Barn.) Dr. Farmer Nyel doctored Snowhite’s bloody skull, fashioned a little protective neosporine-lined helmet for her, and separated her from her nest mates.

She’s always been a bit different; I’m pretty sure she’s brain damaged.  Her eggs aren’t ever quite egg shaped and no matter how much calcium she gets, their shells tend to be fragile.  Too, she’s the one who got mites and is still half naked as a result.  She’s somewhat of an  isolate — not because the others don’t like her, but more because she keeps a fair distance from them most of the time.  (An actual no-brainer if you ask me!)


Lately, she hasn’t been going to roost with everyone else.  She hangs out by the coop door and when I come down to close everyone in for the night, she hops right out to the water trough for a drink of water.  Every night.  It’s weird.    And every night I explain to her that it’s bedtime, not an optimum time for getting drinks of water  (although, come to think of it, I remember when I was four or five, calling to my parents that I wanted a drink of water — which I didn’t. I just wanted to prolong the bedtime routine.)

This morning I thought it might be time to add to the water trough and, in so doing, found that the last time I’d done my water duty, I had neglected to return the safety cap to its resting place after I was finished.  Consequently, no water was getting from the tank to the trough.  Thank goodness it’s been raining.

Snowhite and Slutvana – Temporary Detente

It’s patently obvious that Snowhite has been trying to tell me about the problem for five or six days now.  Why else would she stay up until after roosting time and deliberately go over to the water trough each evening?  Here I’d been thinking “What an idiot!” when all along she’d been trying to show me that there was a disaster pending if the rains stopped.  I apologized profusely.  Who’s the idiot here, anyway?

Oh… and the last part of the quote is “…and that line is possibility.”  In this case, the possibility is that Snowhite is far smarter than I’ve been giving her credit for!  Way to go, Snowhite!

The Wrangler, The Whisperer, and Snowhite

Sunday, January 5th, 2020

Vicki’s Portrait of Fred, 2016

If you know Fred Carter, you probably know him as a singer/songwriter or as a golfer or as Vicki’s husband or as President of the Senior Center in Ocean Park.  Mostly, you’d know him as an extraordinarily nice guy.  But… did you know he’s also an accomplished chicken wrangler?  Last night he put his wrangling talents to use to help out our little white hen, Snowhite.

If you’ve been following the life and times of Farmer Nyel’s Backyard Flock, you may know that Snowhite appears to be suffering from mites.  She, also, is faster than the speedy Warner Bros. Road Runner of “beep beep” fame and, though several of us have tried to catch her, she has led us a merry chase through hedges, over fences, into trees, and has successfully eluded all attempts to capture her for a bit of doctoring.

Farmer Nyel, Chicken Whisperer

“Wait until dark and get her off the roost,” was the advice all the chicken experts gave me.  Easy for them to say.  Hard for a short octogenarian to manage.  So last night about dusk-thirty, Fred came to the rescue.  “Okay!  Let’s go!” he said.  I grabbed a cardboard box and off we went.  “I was down there a few minutes ago to lock them in for the night,” I told Fred.  “She’s on the roost but I’m not sure how close she is to the door.”

“Well, we’ll find out, won’t we?” And with that, he opened the back door, reached into the coop, grabbed Snowhite by the legs and quick-as-a-cluck (actually LOTS of clucking — in fact, you’ve never heard such a squabble!) she was in the box, the top was closed and we were carrying her back to the house!

She spent the night secured in that carton in our heated back-forty.  This morning an hour or so before first light, Farmer Nyel and I went into the garage armed with a can of mite-dusting-medicine and doctored her up.  She didn’t like it a bit, but seemed resigned.  Not much squawking or struggling.  Just a lot of dirty looks directed mostly at me!  Nyel with his soothing voice and gentle (yet firm) touch is definitely a Chicken Whisperer.

The dusting was done in no time and I returned her to the coop before the rest of the flock was even stirring.  Only the rooster seemed to notice and he gave a few thank-you-doodle-dos before settling back down.   I hurried back to the house through the rain humming “Dusting in the Dark” (to the tune of that other one, or course…)

As today goes…

Wednesday, January 1st, 2020

Chef Nyel at Work

As January 1st goes, so goes the year… or so I’ve been told.  It’s not nine o’clock (ayem) yet but so far, so good — mostly.  Early morning chores have been completed, breakfast consumed, chickens fed and let into the garden for the day.  Nyel is busy cooking up a storm and I am already at my desk hoping to resume work on one or the other of two books-in-progress.  There’s just one little problem…

Snowhite seems to have a bad case of mites — not an insurmountable problem for most chicken farmers.  She needs to be treated with “Garden, Pets, and Livestock” dust which first entails catching her.  Easier said than done.  She is mighty skittish even though she hangs back from the others and appears to be asking for help.

“Hiding” Snowhite

The easiest way to catch her, of course, is to take her off her perch at night when she is less alert and less mobile.  Unfortunately, ours in not a walk-in coop and, although a taller person with longer arms (that would be Farmer Nyel) could pretty easily accomplish the capture, I don’t think I can reach her.  Not even from the big back door when she might be on the near end of the roost.

She’s let me know in a number of ways that she wants help with her problem but, so far, she won’t let me get close enough to grab her.  I’ll give it one more shot tonight before I ask for the assistance of a long-armed friend.

It’s really not a coop duty that you’d wish on anyone else.  Plus what would that signify about how the new year will progress?  Chickens in charge?  Not exactly what the Backyard Famer (or wife) want to anticipate…


Curiosity in the Coop

Monday, December 30th, 2019

Big Red The Stalwart

I was pretty sure I couldn’t be completely clandestine about my mission at the coop this morning.  Even though I led the flock far out of sight-range when I gave them their morning treat, I was pretty sure they’d figure out that something was up.  It’s hard to keep secrets from chickens, especially with Big Red always alert to his rooster duties.

My “mission” was to ready the quarters adjacent to the coop and run — originally the broody pen and now isolation chamber for new flock members.  It is closed off from the main run by chicken wire and a gate.  It allows the old flock members to get used to new residents (and vice-versa) gradually, a ploy that usually helps avoid arguments (and sometimes fights to the death) when the co-mingling time arrives.  The most recent residents in “The Apartment” (as we choose to call it now) were Big Red, the rooster, and  his sister, Gladys.  Their integration with the three older residents went perfectly.

the Apartment

Now, I’m readying for the two Fagerland Ladies.  They are older than any of our current flock and are thinking about re-locating to Oysterville from Seaview.  I think it’s just a matter of their Boss/Farmer finding time to transfer them.  Farmer Nyel and I talked it over and decided that we’d not give them advance warning.  Not that they’d plot or plan, but we don’t want them to get overly excited with anticipation.

Snowhite The Curious

However, I do think Snowhite has an inkling.  She often does.  Like some people who are super-intuitive, Snowhite seems hyper-alert whenever coop routines differ at all.  During morning treats today, she hung back and, as soon as she saw me enter the run, she came over to join me.  “What’s up?” she clucked, as clear as clear can be.  I didn’t tell her a thing… but she’s hard to fool.


Chickens in the Rain

Wednesday, December 4th, 2019

Downspout At Work

I heard the gurgling and dripping as soon as I surfaced this morning.  Way before it was light enough to see the rain, I knew it was coming down pretty steadily.  As welcome as it is (aren’t we way behind our yearly average?) I don’t look forward to slogging down to the chickens.

Back from a Rainy-Day Visit

Not because of the slogging, mind you.  It’s just that the chickens are so damned complacent about the rain.  About almost everything, really.  They simply take life as it comes — always excited to see me with treats, always eager to explore the garden, never adverse to finding a way to get beyond the fence.  Sunshine or rain, it matters not.  Even snow, after a little clucking and foot-shaking, is taken in stride… so to speak.

Sydney in Yellow Rain Hat

We chicken farmers could learn a lot from our coop tenants when it comes to attitude and equanimity.  I think the words to live by are “don’t borrow trouble.”  My mother used to tell me that when I would get to stewing about the might-happens.  I never could reconcile that thought with “plan for the worst” which was another momism — though to be fair, it was usually paired with “hope for the best.”

Well, wouldn’t you know… the gurgling in the downspouts has stopped.  Maybe the slogging will be minimal, after all.  One way or another, those chickens will be happy to see me… and their morning treats!

Another Mystery In the Coop

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019

Wind-proof Latch

The gate into our side yard (where the cannon lives in the good-weather months) was wide open yesterday when we returned from erranding.  I’d like to say that’s  not an unusual occurrence and lately that’s been true.  But there was a time, when it happened all too often.  Mostly on weekends.

Nyel thought that it was blowing open (mostly on weekends?) and so Tucker replaced the latch (which is on the inside) and adjusted the gate props that keep it closed.  Still… once in a while it is somehow opened and, with free range chickens, it is worrisome.

We know it wasn’t anyone trying to get a better look at the cannon.  It’s put away for the winter these days. It could have been the propane guy but, until we get the bill, we have no way of knowing if he was here.  It could have been kids, but as far as I know, there were none in town yesterday.  Another one of life’s little mysteries…

Open Coop Gate

A little later when I went down to the coop at dusk, the coop gate was closed and the chickens were clucking and clacking outside it — wanting to get into the coop to roost for the night.  Four chickens.  One missing.  Slutvana!   I called and called, even after the others were snugged in for the night.  No Slutvana.

“The coop gate could have blown shut,” Nyel said.  Yes, maybe.  But it seems odd that the garden gate was open and the coop gate was shut, both on the same day. My own clucking and worrying was rewarded today with the sight of Slutvana joining the others for morning snacks.

I should say trying to join the others.  They were all huffy toward her — did not let her near the treats.  They seemed to be scolding her for not waiting patiently with them at the coop gate.  And for staying out all night.  I wonder if she has learned a lesson?  I know I have.  I’m propping that gate open from now on.  With a heavy cement block.

Confusion and Consternation in the Coop

Monday, November 11th, 2019

Beg Red Wanting Out Into The Garden

Yesterday, I opened the gate between the new chickens and the three old biddies. Not old in the age-sense, mind you.  Just in the proprietorial sense.  The co-mingling didn’t go perfectly but, on the other hand, no serious disagreements occurred.  Mostly, I think, because of the intimidation factor.

The three small hens were wary.  They approached the scratch that I threw out to all of them on tiptoes (tipclaws just sounds wrong) and scuttled off quickly when the big chickens let them know that they weren’t really invited to share.  I had brought out some meal worms for the new couple, following the example of their former farmer, and enticed them away from the scratch by some deft hand-feeding.  To be fair, I did offer some meal worms to the little (not in the sense of young; purely a size thing) ones,but they were having none of it.  Must be an acquired taste.

By the time I headed out the gate, Big Red had made his move toward each of the little ladies, but without success.  They scuttled out of his way with a considerable amount of clucking and scolding.  I’m sure I heard, “I’m just not that kind of girl.” And “I hardly know you, you dumbcluck!”

Little Red Hen All By herself

Interestingly, I’ve never seen Big Red approach his large lady friend with any amorous intent.  When I mentioned that to Farmer Nyel he looked at me with total amazement.  “That would be incestuous!” he said.  “She’s his sister!”  Sometimes I wonder about that man…

It is the big new hen who seems to be the most snarky one of the new, combined flock.  When Snowhite approached the water trough, Ms. Large Lady scolded and blocked her way.  This morning I noticed that Snowhite has retaliated and had taken up a position in the doorway of the coop, clucking and scolding and saying very clearly, “Mine!  All mine!  Keep out!”

It isn’t clear to me whether the new chickens have actually been allowed inside the coop at all yet.  They spent last night huddled in the little broody shed and, though they seem to be ruling the run, so to speak, I think the little hens are ruling the roost.

Having A Spa Day

Oh and did I say that our old Little Red Hen darted out the gate right along with me this morning?  No way would she be enticed back into the run.  I’m planning to do some lawn fertilizing today and don’t want the flock inadvertently sampling any of it so I’ve left them inside the run — all except for that recalcitrant Little Red.  Later, though, I spied her having a dust bath over by the north rhodies.  Leave it to her to turn her escape into a spa day!

When I worried about detente in the coop, Farmer Nyel soothed, “It’ll sort itself out.”  We can but hope.

So far so good. We can but hope.

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

Big Red — Still a Teenager

His wake-up call came right at first light.  Six-thirty.  An hour and a half late for us at this time of year but nice to know that the new rooster is on the job from day one.  His cock-a-doodle-do is yet a little uncertain in the middle, but he’s working on it.  Quite a bit.

Farmer Nyel and I had spent yesterday down at the coop getting ready for the new residents.  Nyel built the coop during the summer of 2008 and made a separate area a few years later to serve as a Broody House and Pen.  Right now I’m thinking of it as the Honeymoon Suite since it’s housing both the new rooster and his pullet lady friend.  Both have accepted their new quarters gracefully, although they hang out by the chicken-wire fencing that keeps them separate from our three older ladies.

Waiting for Morning Treats

For their part, Slutvana, Snow White, and the Little Red Hen have been quite curious about the newcomers.  Especially Snow White.  She appears to be rather aggressive in her “welcome” — going right up to the fence and clucking furiously.  I hadn’t thought so before, but she may well have become the alpha hen of the group once we took the last rooster to the Chehalis Poultry Auction in the spring.

Little Red is less forceful but also very interested.  We wondered if she would recognize the newcomers as relatives (or vice versa) but, so far, the fact that they are all Rhode Island Reds doesn’t seem to be a factor in the getting acquainted game.  Perhaps it is because the new girl is twice as large as she is and the rooster is even bigger still.  Could it be that Little Red doesn’t recognize that they are cousins?

As for Slutvana — she approached the fence, looked over the new couple and left for a day in the garden.  I could almost her her disdain.  She is, of course, the one that none of our previous boys could leave alone.  She definitely has that special something that makes her the most desirable girl in the coop and she appears to know it.  When Big Red (Nyel says that is his name) is finally allowed to co-mingle, we will see if Slutvana’s charms are holding.  If all goes well, we think the big co-mingling day will be next Monday.

The new Rhode Island Red hen

And as for me and Big Red.  So far so good.  He welcomed me into the Honeymoon Suite this morning and ate meal worms right out of my hand.  He was gentle and polite although he didn’t let his suite-mate have any.  Neither of us argued with him, but I was able to slip her a few goodies on my way out.

Thus far… a good beginning.

Another Rooster? Please God, No!!!

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

The last time we took a mean rooster to the Poultry Auction in Chehalis we both said, “Never again!”  So why, you might ask, is it that a young rooster is coming to join our flock today at three o’clock?  Why indeed?

It started five or six months ago with a conversation with our friend Nancy Allen.  Nancy has had chickens — hens only — for several years now.  I’m always interested (and gobsmacked) by her chicken stories — five snacks a day including cottage cheese and meal worms, baby chicks roaming her kitchen etc. Her chicken philosophy is the polar opposite of Farmer Nyel’s.  I find her chickens-as-pets approach fascinating and appalling at the same time.

So when she called to say that she had acquired four Rhode Island Red chicks but Phil said she could only keep two and she offered the other two to us, I was reluctant.  For starters, since Nyel has become incapacitated mobility-wise,  I now have 100% care of our little flock.  I am not an enthusiastic farmer, chicken or otherwise, and I find the daily coop duties more than I can handle.  In my mind, the philosophy around here is “attrition is good.”  Getting two more girls and coddled ones at that did not have much appeal.

Beautiful but Mean

But… Farmer Nyel looked at me with big eyes and… we said, “okay.”  Nancy said she’d like to wait until the hens were laying successfully so it would be a few months.  We said, “okay.”   But a month or six weeks ago, Nancy called to say that one of the hens was quite a bit larger than the others and she was suspicious.  “No roosters!” I said.   “Well, we’ll watch her and see…” was the response.  Last week the word was, “He’s definitely a rooster.  He’s begun to crow.  But he’s very sweet…”  “No roosters!” said I.

Nancy was persistent.  “He’s very very well behaved,” she said.  “Not at all aggressive.  Won’t you come and meet him and see for yourself?”  Meanwhile… Farmer Nyel was looking at me with big eyes.  So… I went to meet Mr. Rooster yesterday and learned that 1) Nancy wanted to bring him to Oysterville that very afternoon and 2) that the hens were not laying yet so it would be a while before the hen could join our flock.  “Laying those first few eggs can be traumatic,” Nancy said.  Gobsmacked, I said nothing.

We finally agreed that the rooster would come at three o’clock this afternoon but only if accompanied by one of the hens.  “Could we fix up the coop so they can see the others but be separate from them for a while?  They say that’s the best way to introduce new members to the flock…”  I said I’d see what we could do.  I didn’t mention that the last time we did the slow (five day) introduction trick, one of the new hens was pecked to death the first day of togetherness.  My hope is that the Mr. Rooster will protect his lady friend…

But the greater hope is that there will be no pecking at others at all — especially at me.  I do not have a good history with roosters.  And I don’t have a Plan B.  Stay tuned…