Archive for the ‘Backyard Chickens’ Category

Look who’s back!

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

Looking Out Our East Door

It wasn’t quite dark last night when I walked past our east door and saw on the lawn… one small black chicken!  Our runaway had returned!  I stood very still so as not to frighten her but I needn’t have worried.  Up the three steps and onto the porch she came, staring intently at me as if to say, “Don’t go away!  I’m back!”

I, however, was terrified that she’d get skittish when I opened the door, so I called Farmer Nyel and turned the situation over to him.  I needn’t have worried.   He opened the door, spoke in encouraging tones to naughty Miss Runaway, and was able to pick her up without incident.  She looked a bit rumpled, but steadfastly refused to tell us where she had been or what she had been doing.  How she knew to come to the once-upon-a-time front door is beyond us but, clearly, she wanted to come in.

Nyel soon had her settled back in the ICU next door to her sister who ran back and forth along the adjoining chicken wire, cheeping excitedly.  Ms. Runaway, however, paid no attention.  Clearly, she was famished and immediately (and for some time) gave full attention to her food dish.  When she’d eaten her fill, she settled down for a nap without so much as a “glad to be home.”   Her sister. on the other hand, was still chirping and cheeping and trying to find out all about where the heck she’d been and why she looked like she had a few wild experiences.

Farmer Nyel Checks Her Out

It was the perfect ending to a rather peculiar day.  I had been scheduled to give a history talk/tour of the Oysterville Church and its erstwhile Parsonage to a group of Community Historians.  Of the fourteen people on the signup sheet, only six showed up.  Just as well – half way through the tour, one of the women whispered to me, “Your sweater is on inside out.”

Sure enough – the label was at the center of the front neckline like a shiny brooch and there was another label sticking straight out of a side seam at about waist level.  Oh brother!  I, of course, responded with a loud, “You’re kidding!  Inside out?”    “I was trying to be discreet,” my informant said kindly.  Oh well.  Might as well admit to knowing what everyone by then had noted.  If I could have made a fashion statement out of it, I would have.

I’d like to make a cause-and-effect claim.  Something like: if your young chicken goes missing for four days, put your sweater on inside out and she’ll come home again.  As I have often said, you never can tell with chickens.  (Or with old ladies, apparently.)

Missing and Presumed…

Sunday, May 13th, 2018

“Don’t beat yourself up about it,” said Farmer Nyel.  “It wasn’t your fault.”

Maybe not.  But, anyway, I feel terrible.  The littlest black hen – the one with the injured shoulder – escaped yesterday afternoon and, try as we might, we haven’t yet found her.  It was my idea to take the chickens outside yesterday for a bit of sun.  Their older sisters had enjoyed a “field trip” to the garden a few weeks ago and I thought these two smallest girls were ready to meet the great outdoors.  Little did I think it might be “meet their maker” instead!

We knew we couldn’t put them together in the little chicken wire enclosure Nyel had fashioned.  They have been separated in their individual ICU areas for a few days now – hopefully recovering from the literal henpecking that they have recently gone through.  Nyel determined that the little black chicken would be the first one for the sunbathing expedition and set her up securely (he thought) with available water and a grassy area to explore.

In an hour or so, he went to check on her.  Gone!  No way of knowing how she got out – under? over? through?  He checked and “chick-chick-chicked” everywhere.  Not that we thought calling her would do any good.  She’s too young to have been offered scratch which is the usual reward for coming to the familiar call.  So… no little black chicken appeared.

The girls confined down at the coop (because of the septic system project) squawked and clucked thinking, no doubt, that they were missing out on a treat.  I went down to explain to them, and hoping that maybe, just maybe, the little one had gone down that way.  You know… birds of a feather and that flocking thing.  No such luck.

This morning Nyel has called again.  And looked everywhere.  “She’s gone,” he said.  He’s philosophical.  Farmers have to be, I guess.  But… I feel terrible.

Horsefeather Haven: High-End Chicken ICU

Friday, May 11th, 2018

Farmer Nyel Puts Finishes Touches on Horsefeather Haven

Farmer Nyel spent a good part of yesterday converting his newly acquired horse trough into a double-roomed intensive care unit for our ailing chickens.  After a thorough cleaning, he covered the trough bottom with wood chips, divided the space with chicken wire, fashioned extra food and water containers, and made a removeable chicken wire lid.

“If they wanted,” I worried, “they could still get at each other through that chicken wire.  Don’t you think that the partition between them should be a solid wall?”

“They’d get lonely,” Nyel countered.  “And besides, I don’t think one of them would put her head through and leave it there to be pecked by the other.  They aren’t that stupid.”

Chickens In Their Very Own ICU

I’m not so sure.  We have no evidence that there was a struggle when the feather-pecking transpired in the first place.  On the other hand, I was touched by Farmer Nyel’s concern about them getting lonely.  I’m not sure the avoidance of chicken loneliness would be high on my priority list. But Nyel’s softheartedness often comes through when it comes to animals and little kids and even, occasionally, to plants.

The feather issue plus the repurposing of the horse trough naturally led to me to think of the new establishment as ‘Horsefeather Haven.’   Horsefeathers is a term meaning ‘nonsense’ and was coined in 1927. Though there is no nonsense involved in this Chicken ICU, it seemed an appropriate name, somehow.

I also discovered when I looked up the term just now that Merriam Webster has an online site listing, by year, when terms and words came into usage.  ‘Pecking order’ is also listed under 1927.  Obviously, the name ‘Horsefeather Haven’ was meant to be!

Mean Girls in the Halfway House

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Big Girls at the Halfway House

Judy Eron of Double J and the Boys has written a number of songs that I absolutely love.  The chorus of one of them __ “I picked his plum tree bare” – has been rocketing around in my head since last night when Nyel came inside after locking up the chickens for the night.

“Well,” he began, “we have one bald-headed chicken.”

“WHAT?  WHY? IS SHE ALL RIGHT?”  Although I doubt if I was that articulate.  All I could hear was the chorus of Judy’s song but with different words:  “They pecked the chick’s head bald…”

We had been noticing a feather-disappearance problem for several days with the two smallest girls, still under the heat lamp in the back forty.  The black chicken, slightly smaller than the white one, appeared to be losing feathers on the back of her neck and Nyel suspected that the white chicken was pecking and pulling at them.

Black Chick’s Neck

“And EATING them?” was my rather horrified question.  There certainly had been no stray feathers visible in their little temporary coop.

“Maybe,” said the Farmer, “and her poop has been runny.  I think those feathers are giving her diarrhea.”

So, he took that mean girl out and put her in the Halfway House with the three other adolescents.  Mean Girl is all feathered out and he thought she was big enough to be with her older sisters. That would give the little black hen time to recover until she, too, could go outside with the others.

I hasten to add that Farmer Nyel had been researching and, having learned that some chickens peck the others because of a salt deficiency, he had added the recommended amount of salt to their water.  Apprarently, this behavior is not all that uncommon among the chicken population.  However, the added salt did not appear to help.

Bald Chick

So… for whatever reason, once out with her big sisters in the Halfway House, the little white hen became the victim.  Nyel brought her in, put her back under the heat lamp with the little black hen, and went online again to learn how to doctor her. In a few minutes, he headed for the back forty armed with the tube of Neosporin.  Today he will make a separate hospital room for her using our newly acquired horse trough and we will hope for the best.

Both the injured girls seem to be in fairly good spirits and they huddle together affectionately whenever we go out to check on them.  If they are distressed by the feather-pulling they certainly aren’t saying so.  Chickens may be cannibals but they aren’t tattlers.

Halfway House for the Three Big Girls

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

Littlest Chicks – Still in the Box

It was moving day for three of our five new chickens – the three oldest ones.  They are feathered out, getting their combs and wattles, and beginning to strut their stuff.  So, Farmer Nyel thought they were ready for larger quarters – outside the box.  Literally.

They’ve been indoors in a big box under a heat lamp for a month or so now and they were already far beyond peep-dom when they arrived.  Not so their two little sisters who will join them when they get a bit bigger.  Actually, more than a bit.  They are getting their feathers, but they have a way to go before I would call them adolescents.  Or even toddlers.  Maybe another month.

Meanwhile, the big girls are now in the Gated Community where our four oldest chickens have been ruling the roost for quite a while.  But, the newest three have a separate area – their very own halfway house, you might say.  They can see the older girls and talk to them and even rub beaks through the chicken wire, but they are safely in their own area until they get acclimated to being outside.  And, mostly, until the oldest biddies look like they are going to accept these newcomers into their midst.

Gated Community

We’ve had trouble with that in the past.  In fact, one of the red hens actually attacked and killed two new girls a couple of years ago.  It was an experience Farmer Nyel does not want repeated.  In fact, though she has no inkling that she is under surveillance, the guilty hen is being watched carefully.  If there is any indication that her killer instincts are still intact, she will be put in the Halfway House when the others become full-fledged coop residents.  And if she can’t get over herself… stew pot!  She’s a tough old bird, so more likely it will be chicken tacos.

Halfway House

I talked to her about that plan while she was out working with me in the garden today.  She listened carefully, but I’m not sure she understood the seriousness of my tone.  She seemed unusually friendly and I’m hoping this is not some clever hen ploy to get me off guard.  But, in the end, it’s Farmer Nyel who will decide her fate.  Back into the Gated Community?  Forever in the Halfway House?  Or stew pot?  It’s hard to convince a chicken that she has choices!

Chickens on a Field Trip

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Farmer Nyel and Friends

Finally!  Yesterday I found my way out of the cranberry bog (read: turned in the manuscript for “Washington’s Cranberry Coast”) and had a look around.  At last I could leave vines and varieties and pickers and pruners behind and get re-acquainted with the real world.

A lot can happen in a few weeks.  Since I had surfaced last, the weather had turned warm, Farmer Nyel had made progress on the vegetable garden, and the four old ladies-of-the-coop had re-established their claim on their world’s worm supply.   And, under the heat lamp in the back forty, even the smallest of the baby peeps were beginning to feather out.

Field Trip

We have five new chickens now.  Two are still small enough to be considered “peeps” and three have reached the stage between toddler and adolescence – almost completely feathered out, developing their combs, and doing a lot of wing-flapping.  Trying to figure it all out, I guess.  I don’t know if it helped or hindered that Farmer Nyel decided they were old enough to take a field trip.

He put them into a small, makeshift cage near his work area so he could keep an eye on them.  At first, they did the statue thing – just stood very still, waiting to see what would happen next.  When nothing did, they began to practice a few new tricks – pecking and scratching in the dirt and grass.  They seemed content – didn’t even miss a beat when one of the old ladies (the Russian Orloff) came over and introduced herself.  She was curious; they were not.

First Meeting

They were outside for a couple of hours – long enough that they seemed ravenous when they were taken in to rejoin their little sisters.  They headed right for the food tray, even before they told the little ones about their adventure.  I don’t know if another field trip is planned for today.  It probably depends upon the weather and it is, after all, still April.  At least, that’s what the calendar tells me.  It’s hard to know when you’ve just emerged from the bog.

Introducing the New Girls

Sunday, April 8th, 2018


Three new babies and one toddler came to our house yesterday.  Farmer Nyel picked them up at our neighbor Katee’s where they’ve been ‘decompressing’ after their journey across the country – clear from Hoover Hatchery in Iowa to Jack’s Country Store in Ocean Park!  That’s a mighty long trip for little peeps. As it turned out, the older girl is from the first shipment a few weeks back.  Somehow, the rest of our ‘order’ didn’t make it with that batch, so the babies came with the second group day before yesterday.

The biggest girl is already beginning to feather out.  But, more importantly, she is showing some personality and has all the makings of a prime broody hen.  When Nyel opened the box Katee had placed them in, all we could see was Amber (named by Katee’s young daughters) with wings spread, little bits of black and yellow fluff visible peeping out at the edges.  Even though it was only a five-minute ride in the car, the temperature outdoors is chilly.  Especially compared to early chick life under a heat lamp.  But Amber was at the ready – spreading her little wings and gathering her younger sisters close.

Nyel and a Peep

Presumably, these are all female – two black and two white hens when they are mature.  This is the first time Farmer Nyel has purchased “sex-linked” chickens – offspring of crossbreed chickens whose color is linked to their sex.   Not only did he want to be sure they were all female (remembering the time he got six “for sure female” chicks, four of which turned out to be roosters) but, also, he wanted specific colors.  The black sex-links will stay black; the two amber sex-links will be white.

Over the years, we have purchased chicks because of their reputation as good layers or  because of their exotic looks or because of the color of their eggs.  This time, though, Nyel thought the flock, itself,  needed a little infusion of contrasting colors.  Hence the black and the white.  But it will be some time before these new girls join the older hens out in the coop.  Meanwhile, they are in their own special enclosure – a big cardboard box – and are basking under a heat lamp.  They have a chick-sized water dispenser and a chick-sized food tray full of Start-and-Grow Poultry Mix.

Home is where the heat is.

Best of all, Farmer Nyel and I visit them by turns throughout the day.  “Bonding” some might call it.  Whatever…  We just enjoy getting to know these little fluff-balls and their bigger, protective sister. We hope the feeling is mutual, but it’s always hard to tell with chickens.

Putting the Farm Back in Country

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018

Catalog Cover

We’ve been doing the Chicken Dance bigtime around here!  Our all-time favorite Country Store – Jack’s, of course! – has gone into the chicken business (and ducks and turkeys and geese and guineas oh my!) via catalog order through Hoover’s Hatchery in Rudd, Iowa.  Free shipping, too!

The catalog has 59 brightly illustrated pages with catchy titles and interesting foul facts. The first 37 pages are devoted to chickens – all varieties from the practical to the fancy.  There are meat birds and egg layers, sex-links and hybrids, white egg, brown egg, and colored egg layers, exotics and bantams and probably more.  Nyel and I are hard-pressed to choose.

The sticking point, though, might be the quantity.  According to Hoover’s catalog, their minimum order for chickens is 15. When we saw that notation, our Chicken Dance came to an abrupt pause.  Farmer Nyel’s coop will accommodate seven, maybe eight girls.  Right now, we have four fat hens and so we’ve been pondering about which three or four more would be the right choices.  Eleven?  That would complicate our ‘backyard chicken’ situation right into a farm zone.  “Not going to happen,” says wise Farmer Nyel

Time to ask a question or two.  Will Jack’s combine the orders of us poultry minimalists?  And, if so, do we need to make outside arrangements first, or can we place our orders and hope for the best?  The order sheet doesn’t specify that the 15-chicken minimum has to be all one variety.  Presumably we could put in our order for four disparate pullets and our choices would be added to the numbers ordered by Jack’s other customers.

Catalog Basics

Which brings up another question – do those girls come from Iowa wearing ID tags?  I doubt that very much.  Our experience with chicks (and even with pullets) is that they don’t always look like their catalog pictures.  Kinda like me and my driver’s license photos.  Only mine always look bad whereas chickens who model for catalogs always look great.  The FAQ page doesn’t mention identifying labels, but it does answer the questions, “What happens if I have chicks that are dead upon arrival?  Can I get a refund or re-ship?”  (Answer – refund or replacement of birds, depending on number.)

We don’t know how all this will work out, but we are definitely doing our Chicken Dance in honor of Jack’s for providing yet another ‘Country’ adventure for us customers!  Jack’s Country Store!  Yay!

Contrarians in the Coop!

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

After months of ‘nary an egg, the Oysterville Chicken Strike seems to be over.  After crossing their little legs and refusing to lay a single egg since last July, suddenly two of the four girls have gone back into production mode!   In the last ten days, there have been three eggs in the nest boxes.

I really wish I knew what goes through those tiny chicken brains.  Here it is, the end of December and those silly girls have decided to get back to work!  Don’t they know ANYthing?  Don’t they read???

 According to the experts: To lay eggs your chickens need plenty of natural daylight-at least 14 hours a day and 16 hours is even better. This means that during the winter, when in the U.S., the natural daylight can drop to less than 9 hours a day; your girls would need 5 more hours of daylight to lay eggs.

That information is available everywhere – in books and magazines devoted to chickens; on internet sites concerning poultry and farming; and, in case they have been reluctant about doing their homework, we’ve given them private tutoring.  Repeatedly.  Plus, wouldn’t you think they’d notice that we only have about eight and a half hours of daylight at this time of year?  As opposed to the sixteen hours we had six months ago?

Actually, I know they do notice.  These days, it gets dark about five o’clock and they are already in their coop and roosting – in their kiss-and-lie-down clothes, you might say – by the time Nyel or I get down there to lock them in for the night.  And, there’s not so much as a rustle or a peep from them until well into the morning – seven or eight o’clock, anyway.  Not enough daylight hours for egg-laying… presumably.

For months, we’ve followed the advice of those same experts.  We’ve cleaned their coop more often and more thoroughly.  We’ve changed to a different type of chicken feed.  We’ve talked to them and given them choice sorts of scratch.  Result: nothing.   Eric, who suggested the tetherball court because chickens like to play, says they were bored.   Our neighbor Carol, chief chicken-sitter all these months we’ve been only part-time residents, says they’ve missed Farmer Nyel.

The chickens aren’t talking.  But they’re laying and that’s good enough for us!  And, just for the record, we’re calling them all “Mary, Mary.”

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!