Archive for the ‘Backyard Chickens’ Category

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!

…of cleaning, fevers, roosters, and rats!

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

Hyacinth and Primrose on their way!

We have more than a month to go before it’s officially spring in the Northern Hemisphere.  Maybe even longer than that before it feels like spring in Oysterville.  Nevertheless, our four chickens each produced an egg yesterday and I actually spent an hour in the garden getting rid of some of the winter’s ravages.  Plus, I’ve had a glimmering thought about searching for the dust rag.

My grandmother and her daughters always did a thorough spring cleaning and it wasn’t until I lived in this very same house that I understood (I think) what that was all about.  During the dark days of winter, the light levels inside are especially dim.  When I’m in my electricity-saving mode – which this winter has been extreme – it is nearly impossible to notice the build-up of dust and cobwebs.  Thank goodness!

Let the dusting begin!

But, as the days become longer and brighter, even my failing eyesight can detect the need for “deep cleaning” as I’ve heard it called these days.  And, reluctantly, I get the urge.  It’s right up there with that desire to get out and have at the flower beds.  The unfortunate part is that I seem to have the energy for one or the other, but not both.  And god forbid I should have something else important to do on a spring cleaning day or a gardening day.  The need to have at it, inside or outside, can disappear as quickly as it arrived.  In fact, entire seasons can go by before the desire stirs within me again.

I’d like to chalk that inattention up to another characteristic of waning winter: spring fever.  But, unless being easily distracted from chores is the octogenarian version of going all funny about romance and the opposite sex, I’m not sure that my diagnosis is exactly correct.  More like Old People’s ADD.

Breakfast!

Besides, it’s early yet.  I don’t even think the days have lengthened quite enough for those girls in the coop to be back to serious work.  Maybe their increased production level has something to do with this being the year of the rooster.  I don’t know exactly how the Chinese zodiac effects the hens of Oysterville, but one can’t discount that thought.

As for me… I was born in the year of the rat.  The general outlook in terms of luck are so-so.  Apparently, my luck prediction for 2017 shows that major concerns of this year should be peer relationship and work pressure. If not dealing with them properly, they may further influence the health condition of Rat people. But the upside is that their love life will go smoothly in general. Their luck in September and December would be flourishing while they may suffer a hard time in June and November.

Nor a word about spring cleaning or gardening.  Whew!  Off the hook once again.

Coop Lurking 101: Failed.

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

Rocky Bandito

Guess who was snooping around the garden early yesterday morning?  Rocky Bandito, himself!  Right out in plain sight, sniffing and snuffing and reconnoitering around the tool shed.  The trouble was (at least from his point of view) – he was in the wrong part of the yard for finding a chicken breakfast.  The girls were still tucked up snug and tight in their coop far, far away (in raccoon steps, that is.)  If this was the coop-lurking practicum portion of his Chicken Thievery class, it’s an ‘F’ plain and simple.

He seemed in no hurry to leave the garden, though.  He gave me plenty of time to grab my camera and take a couple of pictures before he ambled north and into to our neighbor’s yard.  There’s a pretty inviting looking tree just beyond the fence that he and his family might be calling ‘home’ right now.  Actually, Rocky could have been a ‘she’ for all I know.  Rockette?

Since we knew that raccoons are mostly nocturnal, I went to the handy World Wide Web to find out if there might be a problem connected to a daytime sighting.  On a website called “Raccoons in the Attic” (Yikes! Now there’s a thought I didn’t need), I found this information:

…although raccoons are primarily nocturnal… it is not at all unusual for a raccoon to be active in the middle of the day. They can’t just sleep from dawn to dusk without doing anything. They may go off in search of food or drink. This is especially true of nursing female raccoons, who have a bunch of babies to take care of, and who have extra nutritional requirements, because they are nursing their young. In the spring, you’re sure to see some mother raccoons gathering extra food during the daytime, so that they can produce more milk.

In the Lock-Up

I can’t vouch for that masked bandit being either male or female, but I can say that the ramparts of Farmer Nyel’s chicken coop were not breached.  Nor was there any new evidence that an attempted entry had been made.  Just to be on the safe side, however, there was no free-ranging yesterday.  The girls were cooped up in their run all day, much to their disapproval and disgust.

“It’s for your own good,” I told them.  But our short-legged feathered friends are no more interested in hearing that reason than any of the rest of us.  Fortunately, their memories are short and they don’t hold grudges for very long.  (Roosters are another story but, fortunately, we are rooster-less right now.)  Hopefully, the Rocky Bandito family will move on, soon, and the girls can come out and enjoy their usual territory in safety.

Is the work slow-down over?

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Seven Eggs in Two Days!

Day before yesterday was a red-letter day at the coop.  Four eggs!  And all in the same nest box.  That’s one hundred percent productivity and might be the first time ever than every hen has laid an egg in the same twenty-four-hour period.  Maybe that little ditty I sang them about the chicken who wouldn’t lay an egg finally produced results!

Even more surprising was to find three more eggs yesterday! These in the south nest box.  There was even one from the newest working girl.  Her eggs are a lighter color and, more telling, are still on the smallish size.  According to the online Manitoba Agriculture site, “All hens start egg production laying Pee Wee or Small eggs and gradually increase to a mature egg grade size of Medium, Large or bigger. In modern breeds, most hens are laying Large, Extra Large or Jumbo eggs by 40 weeks of age.”

Russian Orloff

I think our newest (and youngest) layer, a Russian Orloff, is about thirty-five weeks old so she has time yet to catch up (egg size-wise, that is) to her older coopmates.  Russian Orloffs are known for being cold-hardy and are said to often lay straight through the winter.  So maybe her production is now beginning in earnest.  Up until these last few days, she has only produced a few eggs and those on an irregular basis.  We have been cutting her a lot of slack because she’s young.  And because it’s so dark out these days.

Generally, laying hens require 14 to 16 hours of light a day for good egg production.  That’s why commercial farmers use artificial light to augment the shorter daylight hours in winter.  Our backyard chickens have to just muddle through.  We are happy let nature take its course.  We clap and talk (and sing!) our thanks when they surprise us with unexpected bounty.  Discovering what’s in the nest boxes is one of the delights of chicken farming!

Morning Bounty

And, about those nest boxes…  The rule of thumb among the experts is one nest box for every three to five laying hens.  We have three nest boxes and four hens.  That they choose to all lay in the same box now and again is another one of life’s little mysteries.  As I so often remark… it’s hard to second-guess chickens!

…and another day begins!

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Gate to the Run: Open

I’m not sure what alerts them – surely not my footsteps on the damp grass – but as I round the rhodies that screen their coop from our garden, the girls begin to cluck me a morning welcome.  I call “Good morning!  It’s a gorgeous day!” back to them, open the gate to the run and then open the door to the coop.

Door to the Coop:  Open

Out they march, down the ramp, one-by-one.  Some go right to the water container for an early morning drink.  Our saucy alpha hen, has her head inside the can of scratch before I can retrieve it from where I set it down.  (Unlatching their coop door is a two-handed operation.  We’re pretty sure it would flummox four-footed critters – even those clever raccoons – but it has yet to be put to the test, Farmer Nyel’s reinforced hog wire around the perimeter of the run has kept those relentless bandits at bay (ahem!) for several years now.)

It’s a gorgeous day for free-ranging.  The gate to the run and their water supply will stay open all day.  Ditto the coop door which gives them access to their food and to the nest boxes.  I check those every day, even though the girls aren’t laying much right now.  Sometimes, we get a surprise – like the other day when there were three eggs in one of the nest boxes!  Wow!  A wintertime bounty for sure.

I think that we are having those three eggs with ham and hash browns for lunch one of these days.  Eggs are considered “heart healthy” and so are the potatoes.  Ham?  Probably not so much but Nyel is allowed 1500 mg of salt a day and, according to the Heart Healthy diet folks, one slice of ham is 17% of that daily allowance.  Ham and eggs for a change is sounding pretty good!

Down the Ramp and Out for the Day

I always thank the girls for the eggs but I’m not exactly sure what to tell them about eating them.  Would it sound cannibalistic to them?  If they ate them, that c-word would definitely be the case.  I’m not sure if they understand that we aren’t chickens and that a scrambled egg for our lunch is okay.  But I don’t even consider telling them about things like the Parmesan chicken we had last night – even though we don’t intend to eat any of them, personally.  It just seems like ‘TMI’.

Foraging?

It’s tricky communing with chickens.  But, still… it’s a great way to start the day.

A Song for Our Girls

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

On Our Porch in the Sunshine – Practically Tropical

It’s not unusual for me to talk to our ‘girls’.  I think all chicken owners must converse with their flocks.  How could they not?  Especially with the hens.  They cluck and clack about whatever is going on – (garrulous old ladies aren’t called “old hens” for nothing) – and they even cock their heads and cast their beady eyes on me when I respond.  Not great listeners, I’d say… but average.

It’s not often, though, that I sing to our chickens.  But, today I did.  It was 26° down at the coop when I went to let them out of their run for a day of free-ranging.   “Feels like 20° said The Weather Channel.  “Uncomfortably Cold” said Mike Challis’ Long Beach Weather page.  So, along with their food and scratch, I carried a watering can of hot water to thaw out the ice in their drinking container.  And that’s what prompted the song I sang to them.

They came out of their coop in full cluck – a commentary on the cold weather, no doubt, but also the assurance that they were all fine.  After all, they are double-insulated.  Farmer Nyel insulated their coop when he built it and, of course, they are dressed for all contingencies in their usual down undergarments and their feathered frocks.

After I told them that The Boss is on the mend and will be seeing them before long, they gathered ‘round to watch me pouring that steaming water over the ice chunks in their drinking container – curious and watchful.  That’s when I sang to them:

I had a little chicken
And she wouldn’t lay an egg,
So I poured hot water
Up and down her leg.
Well, the little chicken hollered
And the little chicken prayed
And the little chicken laid a hard-boiled egg!

Hot Water To The Rescue!

As I headed back to the house, I reassured them that the song was just for fun – we really don’t expect any eggs, hard boiled or otherwise, at this time of year.  I’m not sure they believed me.  They followed me all the way back to the house and the Alpha hen came right up onto the porch, clucking and carrying on.  Maybe they liked my singing and wanted more.  It’s hard to know with chickens.

Clucking All The Way

Cuddling in the Coop?

Monday, December 12th, 2016

Chicken Coop in the snow

These days, Farmer Nyel heads for the coop about 4:30 in the afternoon, just as it’s getting dark.  By that time, the girls have returned to the coop from their daily endeavors and are settling in for a good night’s sleep. Nyel has only to check the nest boxes for eggs and to close and latch the coop door against the possibility of midnight marauders.

His first duty (the egg gathering) has been complicated a bit lately by those two girls who have decided to sleep in the nest boxes rather than on the roost.  Nyel has a choice.  He can either reach underneath each of the ladies to see if they are atop an egg, or he can wait until morning.  He usually chooses to wait, disliking the annoyed rustling and clucking of disturbed hens.

Sleeping Tail-to-Beak

As reported here some days ago, only one of our four girls has been sleeping on the roost lately.  Besides the two in the nest boxes, one recalcitrant hen has been sleeping above the nest boxes – ‘on the shelf’ as it were.  But last night there was a mystifying change in the sleeping arrangements.

For whatever reason, the girl above the nest boxes has returned to the roost… sort of.  Nyel was flabbergasted to see that she was resting comfortably right on top of her sister on the perch.  Now, we’ve all heard of kids in big families who need to share a bed and who sometimes sleep in toe-to-head fashion.  These two hens were asleep tail-to-beak style, one on top of the other.  Definitely a first, at least in our coop!

Exemplary Roosting – Image from Cyberspace

It’s certainly not because of crowded conditions.  The entire remaining four feet of roost was totally empty.  Both girls were apparently comfortably asleep.  What the heck?  We can only assume that at least one of them didn’t get the memo explaining the protocol of roosting.  Actually, maybe none of them did.  They are arguably the most creative snoozers who have inhabited the coop since it was built eight years ago!

We’ve considered trying to educate the girls, perhaps by showing them pictures of ideal roosting situations.  But… educating chickens is a difficult task.  So…whatever floats your boat, we say.  Or in this case, whatever tethers their feathers…

Shy, Hopeful and Balding

Friday, October 14th, 2016
Shy

Shy

It’s been quite a while since I’ve stepped in to do the coop duties for Farmer Nyel.  The girls are well-used to our chicken-sitter neighbors now, but I think they are disappointed that it’s me and not the Tall Guy that is tending their needs right now.  I’ve assured them that it won’t be long before he’s their go-to guy once more, but they are a bit leery.

Our newest young lady is just plain shy.  She has yet to really ‘fit in’ with the other three – stays within sight of them but keeps her distance a bit when they are all free-ranging in the yard. However,  when I approach, she’s into the bushes like a shot.  The rhododendrons provide good cover and she hunkers down well out of my reach and well-camouflaged (or so she thinks.)

Gathered for brooding?

Gathered for brooding?

One of the older girls (a Red Star) has her own method of protest going on.  She has taken to laying her eggs way off in a corner of the broody pen – a corner we can’t reach except maybe with great patience and an extended golf club.  Night before last when I went to tuck everybody in, she was sitting on those eggs as content as can be.  I tried to talk to her a little – a bit of sex education.  You know… along the lines of: without a rooster in the flock, your eggs won’t ever hatch…  But she was having none of it.  Hopeful to the max.

The other Red Star has apparently decided that this is a good time to molt.  Never mind that the days are getting colder and wetter – she’s getting rid of feathers right and left.  Actually, according to the chicken experts, she’s right on time molting-wise.  Typically, the first adult molt among chickens is when they are about 18 months old and usually occurs in the fall as the days grow shorter.  The curious part, probably, is that her sister is not (yet) molting, but has decided to go broody, instead.  Either way, they’ve both found a successful way to shut down egg production for the time being.

Molting

Molting

Meanwhile, all four girls cluck and chortle when they hear me coming to un-batten the hatches and let them out for the day.  Maybe I only imagine that they are disappointed to find it’s me coming with water and food, but I don’t think so.  I share their angst!  I’m eager for Farmer Nyel to be back to his normal duties, too!