Archive for the ‘Backyard Chickens’ Category

Clear Communication At The Coop!

Monday, March 30th, 2020

Farmer Nyel isn’t buying it, but I’m pretty sure the chickens are beginning to understand some English.  Either that or they have perfected mind-reading, which Farmer Nyel would never believe either.  Not because of the chickens.  Because of my mind.

Today we awoke to “one of them variable mornings” as the folks’ old handyman Bob Meadows would have said.  It was pouring rain at first light, then a little break and Nyel said, “Here’s your opportunity!”

I was on it!  Hat on uncombed head.  Field jacket buttoned over hiked-up bathrobe.   Boots on bare feet.  Truly a vision of loveliness.  I grabbed the scratch container which had some over-the-hill cherry tomatoes in it and added some cracked corn.  I also filled an aluminum-foil pie plate with yummy poultry crumbles — their dietary staple.  And off I started.

As I reached the half-way mark, the skies opened: huge pelting raindrops and nasty icy hail beat on me and my chicken offerings.  I hurried.  Only faithful Snowhite was in the run but when I said, “Here I am!” with as much cheer as I could muster, Slutvana and Little Red came out of the coop and down the ramp.

Usually the group gathers just inside the gate, jostling for who will bolt out first when it opens.  And, usually I throw the scratch out on the lawn, encouraging them to leave the coop and “free-range.”  (They actually need no encouragement.  Not ever.)

Usually, too, their food is in a food trough inside the coop.  Not now, though.  I’m hoping to starve out the rat or at least leave only the “food” in the chicken-proof rat trap.  So the girls are probably a little off their feed, so to speak.

So, as I was unlatching the gate, I said, “Go on under the coop.  We’re not going out today.  It’s nasty out.”  And, under they went, leaving me to open the gate, throw the scratch under the coop and place the food pan as far under as I could — out of the hail and rain.

I closed their gate behind me and hurried back to the house as the rain and hail stopped and the sun burst forth for a minute.  My heart was full of joy!!  English  understood!  Or was I speaking chicken?  I really thought Farmer Nyel should be more impressed.  Maybe you had to be there.

The Stalwart Three

Sunday, March 22nd, 2020

If there were chicken police, they would no doubt arrest me for stupidity or inattentiveness or something of the sort.  Fortunately, I don’t think the girls have tried reporting me yet.  I’ve do make every effort to keep them informed about my plans and good intentions for them, and I think they (except for Slutvana) are trying to understand.  As I often say, it’s hard to tell with chickens.

To recap recent traumas in the coop:  within the last month, we have “lost” both the Big Red Rooster and the Big Red Hen.  Their absences occurred about two weeks apart — first the rooster, then the hen.  Both, perhaps, due to wanderlust.

Though our garden is completely fenced, all the chickens we’ve ever had (since those first two roosters arrived unannounced in 2008 and stayed for a year or so) — all of them have found ways to get out and explore the world beyond.  Some squeeze through, some dig under, some fly over.  One way or another, chicken curiosity will out.  The expression really should be, “curiosity killed the chicken.”

So, now we are down to three hens, all good layers.  But, we also have a rat.  We’ve not yet met face-to-face, but he leaves his calling cards (many of them) in the food trough, which he (or maybe they) are sharing with the chickens.  The trouble is, I fear the chickens don’t discriminate between rat droppings and food pellets when they are eating.  It’s not that they gobble.  They simply peck-peck-peck.  Relentlessly.  And without appearing to look at their targets.

Obviously, the usual kinds of rat traps won’t work unless my intent is to maime a chicken.  So we got a special one — pet safe! — that is supposed to be fool proof.  Apparently our Mr. Rat is no fool.  So… in desperation, I closed the girls out of the coop yesterday and set up glue traps (in addition to the “fool proof” rat trap) in the coop.  Meanwhile, I’ve opened the broody pen at the end of the run so the girls have an alternate place to eat and sleep.

They, of course, are having no part of “alternate.”  They disappeared last night at bedtime and I held my breath until morning light.  Back they came, looking perky and asking for treats.  I’m working on an alternate kiss-and-lie-down plan for tonight’s sleeping arrangements.

It’s not easy being a chicken farmer — even a substitute one!

First Picnic of the Season!

Friday, March 20th, 2020

Basking Nyel

I guess summer is usually considered the “Picnic Season,”  not spring.  But what the heck?  The sun was out, the sky was blue, the wind wafted (never mind the chill), and we had plenty of turkey for sandwiches.  So, while Nyel got the picnic lunch together, I hauled a card table and chair (one chair; Nyel’s comes with him) out to our South Garden.

Bundled Sydney

It was lovely!  Nyel closed his eyes, leaned back and basked.  I, the perennially cold one, was bundled up to the eyeballs.  Both of us were content.  And the food was delish — celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, dill pickles, and thick turkey sandwiches.   A few chips would have made it better but… oh well!  There was even a chocolate cupcake to split for dessert!

The only folks who dropped by were the chickens and, even though we had some treats for them, they kept a wary distance.  (I wondered what they’d heard…)  Snowhite headed for our sunny wooden porch where she fluffed herself all up, spread her wings, and lay down to do her own basking.  Slutvana poked and pecked under the rhododendrons.  Little Red Hen ran off to the coop to lay an egg.

Basking Snowhite

It was absolutely splendid.  Not a car on the street; not a soul to be seen.  Good!  I hope everyone was sheltering in a place as delightful as ours!

Is confinement to quarters in order?

Monday, March 16th, 2020

So now we are down to two.  Snowhite and Slutvana.  Big Red and the Little Red Hen have disappeared.  I hope they have simply eloped, but they didn’t leave a note.  Nyel has thought for a long time now — well, for a week which is quite a while in chicken time — that they are a couple.

Never mind that Big Red has continued to have his way with the other girls.  LRH doesn’t seem to mind such fowl behavior.  In fact, she often seems quite relieved that she isn’t getting the full thrust (ahem!) of his ardor.  But, the two of them do wander off together now and then and both seem quite skilled at getting under or over our garden fence.

They’ve been gone since last night.  I have to confess that I got involved in an episode of “The Crown” and it was full dark when I went out to lock up the coop.  I lit my way by flashlight and, before locking the outer gate, I inspected the inside of the coop.  Only Slutvana and Snowhite were there…


As I was writing this, there was a tap at the east door and… there was the Little Red Hen, looking distressed but, otherwise, unruffled.  I went right out with grapes and scratch, let the other two out of the coop, and called endlessly for the rooster.  No luck.

LRH ignored the morning treat and went right into the coop and directly into a nest box.  Maybe she was preparing to lay an egg.  Or maybe she was in an “I vant to be alone” frame of mind.  Or maybe she’s hoping Big Red will show up and she wants to be home to greet him.

So… perhaps we are down to just three girls again.  Or perhaps not.  It sometimes takes a while to know with chickens.

Supermoon, Worms, Robins and… Rats!

Monday, March 9th, 2020

Tonight, March 9, 2020

For whatever reason, Nyel and I were completely unprepared for yesterday’s time change.  “Spring Ahead” had not entered our thoughts.  So when Nyel awoke at 6:15, according to his cell phone, and said, “I guess I forgot to set the alarm…it’s late,” it wasn’t all that late at all.  In fact, by the old time, we were fifteen minutes early.

The day here in Oysterville was gorgeous — blue sky, fluffy clouds, bright sunshine — but just a tad chilly.  Even so, it seemed like Spring to me — and the robins apparently thought so, too.  Nyel spotted several out on the lawn checking out the worm supply.  So… those  cheerful red-breasted fellows are harbinger-ing already, even though the official first day of Spring isn’t for another ten days.

A Welcome Visitor

As for the worms, they and the soil conditions must be right on schedule.  On this very night Earth will host the Super Worm Moon — the full moon which (according to the “Old Farmer’s Almanac”) refers to the fact that earthworms and grubs tend to emerge from their winter dormancy at this time of year, marking a sure sign of spring! 

The “super” part of tonight’s full moon is because it coincides  with the moon’s closest approach to Earth in its orbit. Super .moons make the moon appear a little brighter and closer than normal, although the difference is hard to spot with the naked eye.

Reading Material for Farmer Nyel

What isn’t one bit hard to spot with the naked eye is the evidence that there is a rat in our chicken coop. YUCK!  It’s a first for us — in the coop, that is.  We had mice and rat problems of our own in our laundry room last summer.  DOUBLE YUCK!  So, here we are in the Year of the Rat according to the Chinese calendar and, apparently, not finding a welcome at the main house, they’ve moved in with the chickens.

Never mind that the astrological rat, according to the Chinese,  is a clever and quick thinker, successful but content with living a quiet and peaceful life.  Sharing the coop with our chickens is a big problem — as in what is a safe way (for Big Red and his girls) to get rid of the four-footed food thief?  Farmer Nyel is researching… Stay tuned.

She’s one high maintenance chick!

Sunday, March 8th, 2020

In the beginning…

Snowhite has required extra attention since she was all fluff and no feathers!  First, she annoyed one of her fellow-hatchlings when they were just days old and he pecked at her head until she was bald, bloody, and was exposing her skull.  We immediately put her in isolation, Farmer Nyel became Doctor Nyel and his TLC included medicine (I think it was neosporin) and a little hard hat to protect her from additional head trauma.

Whether or not she sustained brain injury at that early age, we aren’t sure.  But, one way or another, she’s always been different,  For one thing, she’s a loner — and who wouldn’t be under the circumstances?  And she was the only one in the flock who lost almost all her feathers due to an infestation of mites.  (Dr. Nyel to the rescue again — plus help from our friend Fred and yours truly.  Definitely a high maintenance kinda gal.)


It’s also Snowhite who makes demands about water and food.  She lets me know in no uncertain terms if the water trough needs refilling or if she thinks the pellets in the food trough are getting low.  She, too, is the one who requires extra  oyster shell calcium so her eggs will not be too fragile to handle without breaking.

As if all that weren’t enough, last night she decided to play hide and seek right at bedtime.  It was not quite dark when I went out to close up the coop.  Everyone was on the roost and well settled for the night — everyone, that is, except Snowhite.  She was nowhere to be found — not in the coop, under the coop, in the run or lurking nearby.  My inclination was to call “Olly Olly Oxen Free!” but I wasn’t sure she knew the rules of the game..

Snowhite and Slutvana – Temporary Togetherness

I left the gate to the run open and returned to the house calling “Here chick chick chick!” as I went.  Not loud enough that the others would waken and come outside.  Then I’d really have a circus on my hands!  I gave it twenty minutes — long enough that only the almost full-moon lit my way back to the coop.  When I shone my flashlight onto the roost… there she was, the minx!  On the roost, but facing backwards so all I could see was her fluffy, feathery butt.  I’m sure it was a statement of some kind…  silly, snarky Snowhite!

Big Red to Sydney! Pay attention, please!

Sunday, March 1st, 2020

Big Red Looking for Me

I never was very good at foreign languages.  Two years of Spanish netted me a few basic conversation skills.  Full immersion in French netted me some great times in Paris but that was a credit to my hosts, not to me.  As for the language of Chicken — I’m pretty much hopeless.

Big Red would no doubt agree.  He has been trying to have a serious talk with me for the past week, but I couldn’t even figure out the subject of his concern.  First he came to the East Door and just stood there, patiently looking inside and waiting for me to show up at that end of the house.  Then he took to nudging at me when I was passing out treats in the morning — nudging, but not paying any attention to the goodies I was distributing.  Not at all like Big Red.

Secret Stash

Yesterday, he actually pecked at my thigh which, I hasten to say, is right at his beak level.  (We don’t call him BIG Red for nothing!)  It wasn’t a hard peck — didn’t actually go through my levis, but I spoke roundly to him and he backed off. Just a little.  I still couldn’t get what his message was.

Meanwhile… there have been no eggs in the nest boxes for almost a week.  Day before yesterday I cleaned the boxes out thoroughly (chickens do not understand the concept of not fouling your own nest) and lined them with fresh wood shavings.  But, even though they were all fluffy and inviting… no eggs were forthcoming.

Sneaky? Or lazy?

This morning, I finally had an aha! moment and looked into the coop from the back door.  There, in an unreachable corner below nest box level, was a lovely, big nest with six (count ’em! SIX!) eggs in it.  Big Red stood beside me as I used Nyel’s grabber to retrieve them one by one.  He was chortling and growling and saying quite clearly, “I told you so!  I told you so!  I told you so!”

I ‘disappeared’ the hen-made nest and told Big Red to shape up his girls.  It’s still way too cold out to raise chicks.  Fatherhood and motherhood will have to wait awhile.  And I promised more diligence on my part!  Besides, we’ve been missing our daily ration of eggs!

Oh Where, Oh Where…

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020

The Three Reds Last Week

Gladys went missing.  It’s like she vanished in thin air.  First she was there and then she wasn’t.  The beautiful big Rhode Island Red Hen, sister to Big Red the Rooster.

She was there when Farmers Nancy and Phil, the first family who raised her from chickhood, visited her on Sunday.  They came with treats for all the chickens but were especially interested in how the Big Red Rooster and his sister, The Big Red Hen, were doing.  They reported that they thought all five of our brood are doing “splendidly.”

That evening when I went to say “goodnight” and lock them in against any marauding hordes, the three Reds (Little Red Hen plus Gladys and Big Red Rooster) were all on the roost.  They were sort of huddled together as if they were leaving room for Slutvana and Snowhite.  Those two, though, were in one of their “I want to be alone” moods and were each occupying a nest box across the coop from the others.

Big Red on Guard Duty?

Monday morning I replenished their food and water but I kept them “cooped up” (so to speak) as I was going to be gone for the better part of two days — Tuesday in Astoria (eyes, glaucoma yadda yadda) and yesterday to Seattle and back (haircuts for both of us).  We arrived home about dusk and once we got Nyel back in the house I went directly to the coop to check on the flock.

Though they had all gone to roost, they came out into the run as soon as they heard me.  All except Gladys.  I called.  I looked in the coop, shining my flashlight EVERYWHERE.  I looked under the coop.  Everywhere.  No Gladys.

This morning, nothing had changed — except that the other chickens seemed very subdued.  Later in the morning they all came onto the East Porch and just stood there looking into the house.  I know they were trying to tell me something…

Feathers on the Lawn

And this afternoon… Nyel looked out the East door and saw two piles of… what?  Leaves?  Feathers?  Yes, feathers.  Were they there this morning?  Last night?  Did it happen Sunday and did I only think I had seen the three reds on the roost?  Who got her?  Did an unleashed dog get into the yard like Elmo did years ago?  When did it happen?

We are all heartbroken…


Chicken Scratch and Loners In The Coop

Monday, February 3rd, 2020


I love sociograms.  When I was teaching, I found them a wonderful tool for learning how kids were (or were not) relating to one another.  Sometimes, those interactions were obvious but, once in a while, it helped to have a bit more insight.

They worked this way:  Each child and I would have “a secret.”  I’d pass out small pieces of paper — one per student.  Each would write his/her name on one side in red crayon, turn it over and write the name of who they would most like to sit by in green crayon.  Sometimes, if I needed more information, I’d ask them to also write, perhaps in a third color, the name of the person they’d least like to sit next to.  And, “Sh!  Don’t tell!”

2nd Grade, Southgate School, Hayward, CA – 1962

Then I’d take all those papers home and draw a sociogram — each child’s name in a circle with a green arrow pointing to their first choice (and, perhaps, a different colored arrow to their “least” choice.  Instantly, I had a picture of who was most “popular” and who was least liked,  of how much interaction there was between girls and boys, and of who the loners were (if any).  I could act on that information (or not) as I planned group work and team activities — hopefully helping kids expand their social horizons along the way.

I’ve been thinking about those sociograms as I observe our chickens.  All three Rhode Island Reds — the rooster and the two hens — usually hang out together, even though one of the hens is oldest by two years.  The Russian Orloff (Slutvana) sometimes stays near the Reds, especially when it’s snack time.  But she stays on the periphery.

The Loner

Snowhite, the little white hen, seems to be a true loner.  When I take treats out in the morning, she is the last to join in the grazing and usually snatches a large morsel and runs into the cypress “grove” (can one huge tree be a grove?) with it.  She eats quickly and repeats the process — never getting her share, but obviously preferring fewer treats to associating with the others.

I wish I knew how each of those chickens felt about the others.  Is Snowhite’s behavior one-sided or have the others made her life miserable so she’s avoiding them as much as possible?  Who would she really like to sit next to?  Who would secretly like to sit next to her?

The Three Reds

Last night when I went to say “good night,”  the three Reds were on the roost on one side of the coop. On the opposite wall, the Russian and the White hen were settled into the north and south nest boxes with an empty nest box in between.  The Reds were totally isolated from the others and, though they could see those on the opposite side of the coop, there was no chance of interaction.

Would that I could pass out paper and do a sociogram!  If only I could read chicken scratch, it might just be helpful.

When chickens are ankle deep in water….

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020

Where is Noah when we need him?  Especially the chickens.  Their run is awash with puddles and even if they elect to stay in the coop, thirst will drive them outside to their water trough eventually. That’s on purpose, of course, to keep the inside of the coop dry.  Chickens don’t get the concept “try not to spill.”

So, even though we haven’t yet had 40 days and 40 nights of downpour, our chickens will soon be in need of an ark.  The puddles are expanding to the point that there won’t be even a mud patch to serve as high ground.

Even a raft might help.  Although, I’m not sure which of them would make a good helmsman.  When I try to picture the rooster in that job, I see him at the back of the raft with all the ladies standing in front of him, beaks pointed for’ard. That randy rooster wouldn’t stay focused on his task for a minute!  All those pretty little tails with feathers whiffling in the wind?  Nope.  Not happening.

It would probably have to be one of the ladies at the tiller, but which one?  Surely not Slutvana or Snowhite.  They are much too independent with an every hen-for-herself attitude.  They could care less about the others getting a drink.  Maybe one of the red hens.  They are courageous and are the first under or over a fence if the  opportunity presents itself.  Perhaps they could even work together or take turns poling the raft across the Coop Run River..

Meanwhile, all the girls who venture forth have to wade through ankle-deep water water which, when you consider where their ankles are, is a very deep situation, indeed.  (Their knees are actually hidden by their feathers — like my knees were during the 1950s.)  But ankles or knees — it’s worrisome.  I wonder if enough exposure will encourage webbing between their toes..  I really hope it doesn’t come to that.