Archive for the ‘Backyard Chickens’ Category

At Peak Production

Friday, December 14th, 2018

Yesterday was the thirteenth of the month – almost the middle of December.  It was wet, blustery, cold and from my perspective, anyway, an altogether miserable day.  And yet, our five girls each left an egg in the nest box!  I felt as proud as if I’d done it myself.

And, I ask you – what are the odds?  According to one website I checked:  Hens begin laying at around six months of age and can continue for five to 10 years with peak production occurring in the first two years. They will lay roughly six eggs each week. Egg production drops each year when the hens molt (replace their feathers in the early fall) and as daylight hours are lost.

Four of our five hens are less than two years old.  The fifth one is just about three.  None are molting.  Daylight hours are within a week of their minimum number for the year.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t think my math skills are anywhere near good enough to figure the odds (or even the probability) of getting five eggs in one day.  Yet, when I went down to the coop this morning about 8:00 the nest boxes were empty; this evening at 4:45, there were four eggs in the south next box and one egg in the middle box.  Go figure.

None of them are strutting around about their accomplishment.  None of the hens, that is.  The roosters, of course, are always strutting around whether or not they have accomplished anything at all.  I’m not sure who, exactly, those two guys are trying to impress – each other or the ladies-of-the-coop.  Or maybe me.  They certainly seem to ramp up their cockiness when they see me headed their way.  All sounds quiet as I approach, but as soon as they catch sight of me, they start making their moves.  The hens appear to be very adept at avoiding any intimate confrontations, at least when I’m around.  And, I always wonder if those guys know that the gals will give us eggs, anyway.

Of course, none of them are talking.  What happens in the coop, stays in the coop – until I come for the eggs, of course.  Those girls are definitely earning their keep!

Considering the Coop in Winter

Sunday, December 9th, 2018

Chicken Coop, Winter 2008

Never mind that it’s not officially winter here in Oysterville.  And never mind that, by almost every standard – yearly stats, other places in our latitude, the opinions of non-farmer-people – we have had mild weather since we went off of Daylight-Saving Time a month or so ago.

Nevertheless, that change of time in the fall marked the beginning of this Substitute Chicken Farmer’s woes.  Dark arrives without fanfare shortly after five every evening now.  There is no twilight to speak of.  Either I hustle my buns to the coop to shut the flock in or I have to brave the pitchy black and all the scary night noises.  Plus, it’s freaking cold.

Morning isn’t so bad except for putting up with the smug looks I get from those down-encased chickens.  Here I am bundled to the eyebrows and they are just prancing around like normal.  Fortunately, it hasn’t been cold enough to freeze their water yet.  That’s when I carry a steaming teakettle across the crispy lawn to thaw things out for them.  They don’t say thank you.

I’ve been wondering what it would take to convert our laundry room to a coop – sort of like those barns that are connected to the house and the warmth of the animals actually helps with the heating bills.  Not that seven or eight chickens give off much wattage… But it would save this SCF a lot of morning and evening angst.  Never mind the health department…  Where were they, anyway, when that family of skunks was living right under our kitchen floor?  That was in my grandmother’s day – I was just four or five and barely remember.  The Dark Ages.  There probably wasn’t a health department then.

According to Wikipedia:  a connected farm is an architectural design common in the New England region of the United States and in England and Wales in the United Kingdom, North American connected farms date back to the 17th century, while their British counterparts have also existed for several centuries.  Connected farms in the U.S. are characterized by a farm house, kitchen, barn or other structures connected in a rambling fashion.  This style evolved from carrying out farm work while remaining sheltered from winter weather.

Connected Farmhouse, Wales

And, let me say even before any conversion plans begin – I’m well aware that our winter weather is “mild” in comparison to New England’s.  After all I was born in Boston…  But that does not change the fact that I am a cold weather wuss.  Unfortunately, Head Chicken Farmer Nyel appears to be without an internal thermostat and when I broached the conversion subject, he just laughed.  I’m sure the chickens would too.   If not outright laughter, a hearty bit of cluckling.

Agoraphobic Ameraucana?

Monday, November 26th, 2018

Ameraucana In The Coop

In all the weeks that I have had full-time chicken duty (since Nyel’s fall the 3rd of October) I’ve never seen the Ameraucana outside the coop.  She doesn’t come out with the other chickens when I open the coop door in the mornings and, though I’m seldom down there during the day, when I have paid a visit, she’s still indoors.  She does not fraternize with the other chickens at all, as far as I can tell.

Farmer Nyel says she was “acting weird” even when he was still Chief Chicken CEO.  When Slutvana went broody (falsely, as it turned out) and wouldn’t leave the nest, the Ameraucana hung out nearby.  I thought she was being solicitous of her Russian Orloff friend – perhaps eager to play the role of auntie when the hatchlings arrived.

Checking Out Breakfast

So, even though Slutvana gave it all up as a bad job weeks ago, perhaps the Americauna has had some sort of mental upset and is sticking around inside – just in case.  Sometimes, she seems to spend all day in one of the nest boxes.  On other days she wanders around on the coop floor, pecking at the food tray and looking confused.  Both the Farmer and I are pretty sure she leaves the coop to have a drink now and then – the water ‘trough’ is outside and she doesn’t seem dehydrated, so it stands to reason.

I’m beginning to think that she might have agoraphobia – you know, in people it’s the fear of leaving the house. But I looked it up and find that the fear is really more complicated than that. Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that manifests as a fear of situations where escape could be difficult, or in which help would not be available if something bad were to happen.

Hesitating in Doorway

Actually, with those two randy roosters prancing around in the midst of the flock, I think the Ameraucana is showing good sense.  Perhaps it’s more an androphobic (fear of men) condition.  Or could it be alektorophobia — the fear of chickens?  I couldn”t find any phobia specific to roosters, much less any phobias that chickens, themselves, might have.  But now that I’ve thought her situation through, I think I’m a bit more sumpathetic

Probably she needs a chicken psychologist or, at the very least, the services of a chicken whisperer.  That, of course, would be Farmer Nyel.  Keep your fingers crossed that he will soon be able to resume his chicen duties.  That Ameraucana needs him!

Our Barking Rooster

Sunday, November 18th, 2018

Beautiful

We know that our resident ghost, Mrs. Crouch, is responsible for a lot of the mysterious happenings in this household.  She is definitely the one we blame for lost items – Nyel’s car keys and his wedding ring, most recently, and one of a pair of socks on a fairly regular basis.  She also moves items around.  When I put my cup of coffee in the microwave to warm it up and then found it hours later in the refrigerator… well, you know who got the credit for that trick!

But I think our current rooster mystery is beyond even Mrs. Crouch’s considerable abilities.  For one thing, I don’t think that she’s ever been outside the house.  Certainly not as far distant as the chicken coop.  It’s true that, at various times, people have complained to us (in a gentle sort of way) that they think Mrs. Crouch has been visiting at their house.  But I tend to think that is wishful thinking – perhaps a way to explain their own growing absent-mindedness which, thank heavens, has not become a problem yet in our own household.

Scary

But… back to the rooster.  It is the black alpha rooster, the larger of the two who are keeping the six ladies of the coop in line.  And, happy too, as far as we can tell.  That black rooster is the one that hates me.  Each day when I go out with food and water and treats, he marches up and down the inside of the run, giving me the evil eye.  I am always careful to keep that hog wire fence between us, you betcha.  He has come at me once or twice when we’ve both been free-ranging in the garden.  He’s fast and those spurs are sharp and scary.

But the other day when I let the flock out of the coop (from a safe distance away) and Mr. Alpha came over to the fence and gave me that one-eyed look, I was totally unprepared for him to bark at me.  But, bark he did.  “”Woof!” he said.  I was sure I was mistaken but, “Woof” he said again.  It went on for several minutes and probably for nine or ten woofs.  There was always a pause in between – never a woof-woof or a woof-woof-woof.  It was weird.  And a bit disconcerting.

Ferocious

At first, I thought that he had something caught in this throat.  Then I thought maybe his cock-a-doodle-doo was stuck and wondered briefly (very briefly) if I would have to apply some sort of fowl Heimlich maneuver.  But… when it came right down to it… no.  I wasn’t going there.  As I walked away, he crowed his usual textbook perfect cock-a-doodle-doo.  I can only conclude that he was just being extra ferocious that morning.

And, yes… I did look up “barking rooster” on the internet.  It happens more than you’d think!  Just another of those you-never-can-tell-with-chicken things.  I was relieved that Mrs. Crouch was not involved.

When the Timing is Off

Monday, November 12th, 2018

There’s something about this time of year that is difficult for me.  And probably for the chickens. For one thing, the change from day to night and then back again comes all of a sudden.  There isn’t a long, lazy twilight nor is there a slowly rising sun.  It all happens in the blink of an eye, or so it seems.

In the evening, usually just as I’m putting dinner on the table, I realize it’s gone pitch black outside.  Not a huge problem.  I have only to walk down to the coop, lock in the flock, and gather the eggs.  By dark they have already gone to roost, so there is no problem.  I try to remember a flashlight… although I’m not always sure that’s wise.  It’s when I have a flashlight that I often see the deer people have a conference in the yard.

Bear in the Meadow

One night there were four of them.  Startled, apparently, they each went in a separate direction – leaping the rhodies and the fence.  Effortlessly.  Soundlessly.  It was a bit disconcerting.  Another night I thought I ‘felt’ movement behind me and when I turned and looked there was a small doe passing a few yards behind me.  She seemed to be in slow motion and I swear she was on tiptoes or tiphooves, as the case may be.

I’m always thankful, of course, they are deer and not bear or some other less benign creatures.  I tell myself that six o’clock in the evening is too early for the predator people to be prowling and try not to remember that they don’t have clocks.  And I vow to get a bigger flashlight.  In the morning, when I see bear scat along my path, I vow to pay better attention to my timing.  But, of course, I don’t.

Mornings aren’t so bad.  Not for me, anyway.  It gets light as I am at my computer writing my daily blog.  If the wind is right, I sometimes hear the roosters crowing – letting me know that they are thirsty and want out of the coop.  Time to take them food, water and a treat of scratch.  And to do a check of the parameters – see if any pesky raccoons have been working on the enclosure. So far, so good in that department.

But I can’t help feeling that those raccoons are looking at me from the copse of trees just to the west of the coop.  Looking and waiting.  I’m sure they are well aware that timing is everything – especially at this time of year.  And, all too often, my timing is off.

Here comes winter!

Friday, November 9th, 2018

A Serious Fall Frost, 2013

The winter solstice is still a month and a half away – December 21st according to the calendar. But Jackie Frost has been here the last few nights as evidenced by the layer of white he’s been leaving here and there.  It’s a sure sign that summer is over and winter is making ready to descend.

When I was still teaching and traveled along the back road each day, I loved seeing the frost on the cranberry bogs with the accompanying dense layer of fog hovering just above ground level on early fall mornings.  Now my morning vista involves our expanse of lawn that turns frosty white and the sunrises over the bay that provide spectacular counterpoint to the somewhat bleak aspect of the garden.

A Serious Fall Sunrise, 2013

Of course, we could still have an Indian Summer.  Even though I’ve heard those warm days of the last few weeks referred to as just that, Farmer’s Almanac says that it’s not so.  Here are the criteria that the venerable publication lays out:

  • As well as being warm, the atmosphere during Indian summer is hazy or smoky, there is no wind, the barometer is standing high, and the nights are clear and chilly.
  • A moving, cool, shallow polar air mass is converting into a deep, warm, stagnant anticyclone (high pressure) system, which has the effect of causing the haze and large swing in temperature between day and night.
  • The time of occurrence is important: The warm days must follow a spell of cold weather or a good hard frost.
  • The conditions described above also must occur between St. Martin’s Day (November 11) and November 20. For over 200 years, The Old Farmer’s Almanachas adhered to the saying, “If All Saints’ (November 1) brings out winter, St. Martin’s brings out Indian summer.”

Frosty Under Foot

So, I’m looking forward to day after tomorrow.  Maybe we’ll have one more little spurt of warm, sunny weather.  Meanwhile, I’m bundling up for the morning and evening chicken run and watching out for that wintery skim of ice on their water container!  Brrrr.

Lucy Locket should’ve been so lucky!

Thursday, November 8th, 2018

Another Three-Egg Morning

Being the wife of a somewhat impaired chicken farmer isn’t easy.  Right now, all coop duties fall to me since Nyel can’t put any weight on his left leg.  Besides the chickens missing him, there are other problems.  Like yesterday morning when I got up and put on my bathrobe…

The problem with coop duty at this time of year is that, no matter the weather, the grass is wet.  That entails boots and, for several years, there has been a boot crisis here at our house – as in my (extremely) old, comfy ones have sprung way too many leaks and I can’t find any in this new-age world that I can easily slip on and off when I’m wearing my usual blue jeans.

So… I’ve taken to doing the food and water run to the coop in boots and bathrobe so I can slip those boots onto (and off of) bare feet and legs.  Easy Peasy! The hem of my robe gets a little damp, but my next morning activity is to shower and get dressed so the bathrobe has essentially twenty-four hours to dry.  Over and out.  The bathrobe had the added advantage of having big, roomy pockets, and therein lies another problem.

A Pair of Pockets, 1700-1725, British Museum

Yesterday, just before dawn’s early light, I slipped into that warm, fleecy bathrobe and felt a rather familiar weight in my front right pocket.  Oh no!  An egg!  It all came back to me.  The morning before there had been four eggs waiting in the nest boxes.  I could carry three in one hand and, since my other hand held the water and food containers, I slipped the fourth egg into my pocket.  Apparently, that was the end of my thought processes about that particular egg.

Which made me think of Lucy and Kitty.  You may remember that “Lucy Locket lost her pocket, Kitty Fisher found it, Not a penny was there in it, Only ribbon round it.”  Well, at least these days it’s harder to lose your pocket, egg or no egg.  I read somewhere that, although men’s pockets began to appear in trousers and waistcoats as early as the 1600s, women’s pockets were separate items – more like a modern purse – and in the 17th and 18th centuries were typically attached to a ribbon tied around the waist and worn under the petticoats.

Embroidered Satin Pocket, 1725-1825, Germany

It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that dress patterns show pockets being sewn into the seams and not until the two World Wars when women began wearing trousers that pockets became part of everyday fashions for the female gender.  As you might expect, there is a lot of political palaver that goes with pockets and their sexist beginnings.  All I can say is, doing the chicken chores sure is easier these days than it would have been a few hundred years back.  And all because of that bathrobe pocket!

…maybe it’s a nationality thing.

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

Russian Orloff

Life has been a little less enthusiastic in the coop these past few days.  Slutvana gave up her brooding on Monday and left her eggs to go cold in the nest box.  The aunties have stopped hovering around expectantly and the roosters are…  Well, the roosters are just doing their usual randy bit for the good of the cause.  Presumably.

Farmer Nyel directed me to get rid of the five eggs lest they get broken and cause a big stink.  So far, I haven’t called Godfeather Erik to tell him that his work in creating the run for the chicklets was in vain – at least this time around.  Hopefully, there will be other opportunities for baby chicks.  And, hopefully, it will be the Ameraucana who goes broody.  Maybe she will be more reliable.

According to the BackYard Chickens website, hens go broody for inexplicable reasons – “this mood is determined by her own instincts, hormones, voices in her head, instructions beamed down from her Mother Ship.” (I just love that website.  They tell it exactly as it is, in my estimation.)

Ameraucana

I think, in this case though, it was a nationality thing.  Perhaps Slutvana (who is, after all, a Russian Orloff) got a little confused about her duties.  We are rapidly approaching November 6th and some sixth (ahem) sense must have tuned into her Russian compatriots’ attempts to fowl (ahem again) up our election process.  Deceitful, duplicitous Slutvana!  For shame!  You had us all counting chickens that weren’t ever going to hatch.

But we are onto her now.  In the future our surveillance will be ongoing and relentless… even though we know that you never can tell with chickens, no matter what their nationality!

We’re dubbing him ‘Godfather Erik’ maybe!

Sunday, October 21st, 2018

Chicks-in-the-Making?

If anyone ever earned his Godfather feathers, it’s our friend Erik!  Yes… feathers.  I think that’s what you probably earn when you are dubbed Godfather to baby chicks.  But it’s all speculation at this point – not the ‘earning’ part.  The ‘babychicks’ part.

Yesterday was Day 21 for Broody Slutvana.  She’s been sitting on her eggs more-or-less constantly since September 30th so, according to the books, yesterday should have been Hatch Day.  But, as we all know, you never can tell with chickens.  She began with five eggs and was very protective.  Then, one morning… Slutvana had left the nest.  There was one broken shell and no evidence of its contents; the remaining eggs were still warm.  The Russian wasn’t talking.

Broody Slutvana

Since then (it’s been ten days or so) she’s been fairly faithful to her job, although for the last three mornings she’s been off the nest long enough for the eggs to get cold.  After the breakfast roll call, though, she’s back on duty and more protective than ever.  Did you know that hens can growl?  Honestly!  When I express too much interest in her situation (like deign to look at her) she growls in warning.

Broody House That Nyel Built

And then yesterday, there was a fifth egg again!  Hers?  Whose?  That they aren’t all Slutvana’s eggs seems obvious – they aren’t all the same color.  But, broody hens aren’t  particular… or so I’ve read.  This morning, the same five eggs, but cold to the touch.  I’m not sure if that girl knows what she’s doing.

Nyel and I looked up “leaving the nest” and other related sites and found that incubation time can vary and time off the nest isn’t always crucial.  One report was that nine eggs hatched in “twenty-one days plus one or five.”  So, as of now, we are still moderately hopeful.

Erik’s Wall and People Door

And… we are ready!  Thanks to Erik who came and completed Nyel’s start at constructing a separate brooding area at the south end of the coop run.  The final wall separating the smaller area from the rest of the run had not been completed when Nyel had his fall and Erik, bless him, spent most of yesterday afternoon finishing it up and installing a people door, complete with a shiny new latch!

Now if those chicks hatch, we can move them and their mom to the safety of the Broody Yard – away from those overly inquisitive aunties and meany roosters.  And Erik will get his Godfather feathers for sure!

Remote Rooster Control Contraption

Thursday, October 11th, 2018

Coop Door, Closed

Where was Rube Goldberg when we needed him?  Oh… wait a minute.  We didn’t need him at all.  When the young rooster of our flock finally got his alpha on, it was Tucker to the rescue!

This latest rooster problem began just about the time Farmer Nyel went out of commission.  He (the rooster, not Nyel) had begun to make threatening gestures toward me a few days before the fall put him (Nyel, not the rooster) out of the chicken business for a while.  Carol took over while we were in Vancouver at Peace Health and that pesky rooster threatened her, as well.  Then, day before yesterday, when I let the flock out of the coop in the early morning, that reprobate rascal spread his wings and flew at me feet first, talons at the ready.  Twice.

Coop Door Open

If you’ve never been on the receiving end of a raging rooster, you probably aren’t very sympathetic.  But, I’m here to tell you that it is scary AND if they make contact there will be bloody damage to show for it.  “That’s it!  I’ve had it!” I told Farmer Nyel.  “I’ll only let them out when it’s still dark – before they are up and alert.”

About then, though, Tucker called and asked if the rooster was behaving for me.  “I think I have a solution to your problem,” he said.  “I’ll come down after they go into the coop to roost tonight and see what I can do.”

The solution involved a small rope, a pulley, and a couple of hooks.  In the morning at first light, I went into the run and released the latch on the coop door.  I could hear the hens clucking and shifting around on their roosts and, of course, both roosters (the alpha and the beta) were crowing their heads off.  I left the run, closed the man-door, pulled the rope to open the coop door and hooked the rope on the chicken wire ‘wall’ so that the door remained open.

Stalking Rooster

Out trooped the seven chickens.  They were led, of course, by that big, beautiful, black rooster.  He headed right for me and was not a bit happy that the chicken wire fence AND  a hog wire fence intervened between us.  As I walked along, he walked right along beside me, keeping his beady eye on my every move.  Just to check, I turned and walked the other way.  So did he.  He hates me.

“Nya nya nya!” I said.  I just couldn’t help myself.  Then I went right inside and emailed Tucker:  “Worked like a charm!”

Stalking Some More

Rube, himself, couldn’t have done a better job!