Archive for the ‘Backyard Chickens’ Category

Chickens, Tsunamis, and The Water Stash

Monday, August 12th, 2019

All In A Row

“What are all those bottles of water lined up by your back door?” our friend Mark asked one Friday night.  “Well…” I responded, “they began as Tsunami Preparation but have segued into Chicken Supplies.”  He nodded as if that made sense, and maybe it does.  Or not.  Definitely one of those it-is-what-it-is things.

There was a time when Nyel took the whole tsunami preparedness schtick very seriously.  He refitted his old backpack with an upgraded first aid kit, bought a backpack for me to replace the one I’d given to Goodwill thirty or forty years ago, and began stockpiling emergency supplies.  Well…  supplies of water.  He rinsed out used tonic water bottles and carefully filled them with refreshing Oysterville water, dating each bottle as it was placed on the pantry shelves.  Periodically, he would refresh and redate.  But mostly, there they sat.

Judging by the dates, he began the Tsunami Preparedness Program in 2001. It petered out in 2015 which was the year Nyel’s left leg was encased in a plaster cast from groin to ankle and he spent three months in a hospital bed.  One of my “other duties as assigned” (in addition to my Nurse Ratched responsibilities) was to take care of the chickens.

Pantry Shelves

Lugging food down to the coop wasn’t hard, but carrying buckets of water was.  So… I began taking and using those tsunami bottles.  As in, who wouldn’t?  That was in 2015…  and the beat goes on.  Today I refilled the empties (though I didn’t date them) and put some back on the pantry shelves — mostly to get them out of the way.

It’s not that I’ve given up on the tsunami — it’s just that the reality these days is, with Nyel’s bum leg it takes us the full twenty minutes just to get out of the house.  Never mind the provisions.  And, when you are in Oysterville, where to go in that time allotment is actually the first big question.  We have resolved that IF we can make it into the car in time, we’ll head for the highest nearby spot — the Oysterville Cemetery — and hug a tree.  If that doesn’t do it… well, we’ll end up where we hope to be eventually, anyway.

As for the water… any surviving chickens will be more than welcome to it.  (I wonder if I should be helping them with their bottle-opening skills.)


Chicken and Vegetables

Saturday, August 10th, 2019

Svetlana on Okra

The ladies of the coop like their vegetables.  Whether they are eating leftovers or sitting on an unopened bag straight from the freezer, there is nothing that quite approaches the busy contentment of chickens with veggies.

Last night I waited until almost-dark  to try to break Svetlana’s hopeless broody cycle.  “Put a bag of frozen peas or some such under her.  Her body temperature will drop and she will no longer feel broody.”  Or so I read.  So, about nine o’clock — just before the flashlight hour had arrived — I took (at no sacrifice at all) a frozen bag of okra down to the coop.

First, I reached under her and fetched a warm, brown egg.  She was still awake enough to give me a cursory peck but I persevered and slipped the bag of okra under her ample, feathery bosom.  She didn’t seem to notice — just shifted and squirmed a bit and then settled back down to her broody duties.  I left her to it and wondered what hatched okra would look like…

White Hen and Corn-on-the-Cob

This morning I had treats to take to the girls — corn cob left-overs, some tomato ends and part of a corn tortilla.  The red and white hens were up and awaiting my early a.m. visit but… no Svetlana.  Upon investigation, I found her still sitting on the now unfrozen (and squishy) bag of okra.  She gave me another warning peck as felt around to see if there was another egg under her but stayed settled in to her duty.

However, when I pulled the bag of okra out from under her, she was up in a shot, out of the nest box and out into the run to explore the morning treats.  She headed right for a corn cob and got busy.  But I noticed her looking through the chicken-wire fencing at the green grassy lawn beyond.  Was she thinking of what she might be missing by insisting that her eggs turn into chicks?

Wistful Svetlana?

Before I left the coop, I reminded her once again that there are no roosters among the little flock and reiterated that without a Papa in residence, baby chicks would not be forthcoming.  “Give it up!” I told her.

We will see.  (I wrapped the bag of okra in a clean plastic bag and set it back in the freezer… just in case.)

When is enough enough?

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

Broody Svetlana 8-5-19

Ms. Svetlana is still broody.  It’s been more than a month now.  According to the experts:  When a hen is broody, that means she wants to hatch her eggs and raise chicks. A breed known for frequent broodiness has hens that often, individually go broody. These hens may not even need eggs to set on to be broody–they may brood in a nest with no eggs. Or in a corner on rocks.

Well, Svetlana is a bit more rationale than that, but not much.  If I remove the eggs from under her (despite her pecking at me), she waits until one of the other girls lays in the nest box next door and, as soon as the hen vacates the premises, Svetlana moves in.  She is one determined fowl!

Frozen Okra

I’ve read that the chicken farmer might be able to break the broody cycle by putting a bag of frozen vegetables, say peas, under Ms. Broody.  Since a raised temperature is one of the symptoms of broodiness, the icy underpinnings may break the cycle and the unrequited mother hen will return to “normal.”  We happen to have a bag of frozen okra (OMG!) in our freezer and tomorrow I’m making the ultimate (NOT!) sacrifice.    (When I asked Nyel why the okra, he said that before he fractured his hip, he was thinking of making gumbo.  I repeat: OMG!)

And speaking of Nyel’s health matters…  we DID get an appointment in Seattle for a second opinion on his osteo-myelitis diagnosis.  Not at the University of Washington Medical Center’s Infectious Disease Department, however.  They informed us that they no longer take Medicare patients.  Say what???  I’m trying to figure out how to get them to sit on icy bags of okra — or a human equivalent of something to break through their unreasonableness.  No Medicare patients???  Really?  I wonder if that comes under elder-discrimination.  (85% of Medicare patients are over 65.)


The Reason Chickens Get Into Trouble

Monday, July 15th, 2019

Fake Listening By Svetlana

It isn’t because they insist on crossing without looking both ways.   Far from it.  I’m here to tell you that the reason chickens get into trouble is because THEY DO NOT LISTEN!  No matter how many times they are told, no matter in how loud a tone, or how they appear to be paying attention — do not be fooled.  Chickens are the worst listeners ever.

Take our Russian Orloff, Svetlana,  for instance.  (Otherwise known as Slutvana or the Russian Slut, especially among the cocky local rooster crowd.)  She has decided to go broody.  Not that there are any guys in the coop or even in Oysterville right now.  Not as far as I know.  Where was that silly girl when I gave all the young pullets the Sex 101 talk?

“Don’t be getting yourself in a family way,” I told them.  “Unless there are guys around, your eggs will not result in chicks.  So don’t be going broody and just sitting in your nest all day.  Nothing will happen.  The eggs won’t hatch.  That’s all there is to it.”

Did Svetlana listen?  Apparently not.  It’s hard to tell with chickens.  Their ears aren’t obvious like a cat’s or dog’s ears.  They don’t perk up when they hear something interesting or flop forward when they are disappointed.  Oh no. But chickens do have ears and they are located on the sides of their heads like most people’s.  The reason they are hard to see is that they are usually covered by feathers.  And earlobes.

Broody Svetlana

And here’s a trick not many people know:  the color of the lobe is a great indicator of the color of the eggs the hen will lay.  White lobe — white eggs.  Brown lobe — brown eggs, although they could be any shade of brown from the lightest tan to a deep, rich chocolate color.

Of course, I know that Svetlana can hear.  She is not the least bit deaf.  She just picks and chooses what to pay attention to.  The whole sex talk just wasn’t interesting to her.  She had made up her mind eons ago that motherhood was for her.  She practiced mightily when we had those two randy roosters but, for reasons probably outside her control, she didn’t go broody until months after the boys had had their way with her.

And that brings us to the here and now.  Ms. Svelana has been in one of the nest boxes for two full days.  When I’ve gone to check on her, she just looks at me… broodingly.  Today I felt four eggs under her.  She may have chosen a nest that already had eggs in it or she may have begun working on her clutch before I noticed her broodiness.  When she has laid “enough” eggs — usually six or eight, she will not leave the nest for 21 days except to eat a little and drink some water.

Svetlana Feeling Frisky, August 2018 —

According to the chicken gurus, “There is no exact science to exactly what makes a hen go broody- it’s a combination of their hormones, instinct and maturity.”  And even if there were a scientific reason, you can bet Ms. Svetlana wouldn’t care even if we explained it to her.  That’s the way it is with chickens. They do not listen and that is the reason they get into trouble.  Period.

The Best Party on the Peninsula!

Sunday, July 14th, 2019

From the July 11th issue of “Coast Weekend”

I just love the Music in the Gardens Tour!  Yesterday was the “13th Annual” and it seemed to me that the entire Peninsula, from Stackpole to Sahalee, was in full party mode!  The sun was out!  The music was wafting!  The flowers were blooming!  There were goodies to eat!  And everybody but everybody was out in force!

I went with neighbor Carol Wachsmuth and we managed to visit all seven gardens and take time out for lunch, as well.  Despite stopping at every turn to greet and hug old friends, we had plenty of time to see the unusual and unique features of each garden.  The one thing I didn’t have time to do was take pictures, but images of  color, shape, texture, and most of all of perfection(!) will be in my mind’s eye for weeks to come.

“Sea Strings” – Bill and Janet Clark

At the Norcross-Renner’s  we lingered by the stunning heather bed and the beautifully but lightly “managed” woods between house and bay.  At the Pollock/Stevens garden in Ocean Park, we were impressed by the perfect plantings in the undulating free-form beds and the views of all of it from the deck above.  At Dawna and Terry Hart’s — shiny bits of glass in all the unexpected places and, of course, the “cat condo” where we stopped for a bit, hoping to meet its resident… but no such luck.

At Diane and Fred Marshall’s it was the view, the view, the view!  The weather cooperated fully and we could see to Saddle Mountain and back again where we stood surrounded by garden beds in perfect order — not a weed or a errant leaf in sight!  At Dave and Linda King’s we enjoyed each one of the eleven “patios” and admired all the tiny details of the Fairy Garden for a long time.  (Will Carol try something similar in the woods adjacent to her place?  Her grandchildren would be enchanted!)

We approached the end of our day with a mind-boggling walk around Deb Howard’s “Willapa Bay Heritage Farm.”  Both of us loved seeing all the varieties of chickens (Carol is our chief “chicken sitter” when we are out of town) but were curious as to their silence.  Farmer Nyel’s girls cluck and clatter constantly — to us and to each other — but Deb’s ladies made not a peep.  Nor did the  two pygmy goats which one of the worker-bees said were “borrowed” for the day, though there will eventually be resident goats.  As for the vegetables and fruits and herbs and flowers… we were told that there will eventually be a retail produce stand on the property.  Stay tuned.

The most serene and rejuvenating garden we saved for last.  Steve McCormick and John Stephens’ “Bayside Garden” felt like a welcome retreat from the day’s bustle.  Though it was late in the afternoon, many people still strolled along the shady paths among rhododendrons and stately trees on this elegant property.  Sitting with the owners on their deck overlooking the bay was the perfect ending to the best party on the Peninsula!  Thank you homeowners, gardeners and Water Music Society — once again you have outdone yourselves!


One by one… and now there are only three

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

The Jungle Beyond The Run

Some time ago (maybe three or four years), when we were about to introduce new pullets to the coop, Nyel fine-tuned the broody hen end of the run, closing it off completely so that the new girls could meet the old girls but remain safe.  It was sort of a solitary confinement in reverse.  We had had trouble once before with an old alpha hen pecking a newbie to death.  Chickens can be mean.  Very, very mean.

As an introduction-to-the-flock area, it worked very well but we’ve not used it for at least a year now.  We’ve kept the area closed off and, without chicken activity each day, it has grown to jungle-like proportions, at least from a hen’s vantage point.  I decided to open the gate between it and the run and let the chickens do their magic transformation.  I figured that in a couple of weeks it would be bare dirt again.  Chickens are good at that.  (I’m sure they are part goat.)

Just Big Enough

What I didn’t think to do was to check the parameters.  So… two days of access to ‘solitary’ resulted in chicken breakouts — but only of the smallest chickens.  Both times, one hen didn’t come home.   And both times the largest hen — the Russian Orloff — was still in the run.  I looked and looked and finally found a small place at the end of the Chicken Jungle  where the hog wire fence had been bent outward leaving a hole large enough for the smaller hens to get out but bent in such a way that they could not get back in.    Looked like raccoon work to me.

Three from Three

Tom, our new mower-guy, said there were black feathers over by the rhododendrons on the north side of the yard today.  Again.  Apparently, if the raccoons can’t get in, they find a way to entice the chickens out.  And then…

The three remaining hens seem unfazed.  They have left three eggs in the south nest box each day.  But they are not very happy with me.  I’m keeping them confined day and night and without access to the Chicken Jungle until I can repair the raccoons’ handiwork.  It ain’t easy being an ailing chicken farmer’s wife!

It’s not easy outsmarting a chicken…

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

Somewhere we have (or had) a big roll of black netting.  I’m not sure why Nyel got it, but it occurs to me that I can put it around the plants and over the dirt in our geranium pots and that might discourage those naughty girls from making a mess on the porch.  It’s another of those “when I have time…” things.

For today, I’m hoping that,  by leaving the sprinkler on in the south garden, I can discourage them from doing their dastardly pot pecking at least for today.  I’d like the porch to be fairly dirt-free for Nyel’s homecoming.   I can’t do much abouot the swallows, though.  Nyel will not be happy to see them (or their mess) and I’m sure the feeling will be mutual.


On the other hand, it would be great if the ladies would come greet him when he arrives.  His plan is to walk the length of the porch with his walker (rather than in his wheelchair) as he can manage the step up onto the porch and the second one into the house that way.  He told me yesterday that he’s been practicing going up and down stairs during his therapy sessions!

Another session with practicality in mind was in the “kitchen area” of the gym at the Seaside facility.  Yesterday the therapist had him stand with the kitchen counters as support while he got dishes and silverware  out of cupboards and drawers.  “So I can help you in the kitchen,” he said with a twinkle.  Obviously, he hadn’t told the therapist who is the head chef in this household.  “Help, hell!” was my response.  And we both laughed out loud.

I haven’t actually asked him what his goals will be once he gets home.  But I suspect that returning to his cooking duties will be one of them.  I plan to talk about that on our way home today.  I can still hear the pride in his voice when he told me Friday that he had met all of his goals at rehab.  “And more besides!” thought I!

As for arranging for Nyel to be met by his girls… That’s my immediate goal and I think I have a plan that will work.  Stay tuned…

And now there are four…

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

The Black and White Hens, June 3, 2019

Night before last, there were only three girls huddled on the roost when I went down to tuck them in.  It was gloamy out but quite dark in the coop and I couldn’t make out clearly which two were missing.  I thought probably one was the Little Red Hen.  She’s the most adventurous and if anyone was still out on the town I thought for sure it would be she.

Then, yesterday morning, the white hen stood in front of the locked gate to the run.  She seemed full of attitude as in, “What is this?  You locked me out?  I couldn’t very well have left that party early, could I?”  But she was silent as to who she should have brought home with her.

As it turned out, it was one of the black hens — not the LRH, much to my relief.  I know I shouldn’t have favorites, but that red hen does seem to be the leader of the group and is always the one who approaches me first when I go outside.  I think she feels somewhat responsible for her missing friend.  She has seemed distracted — didn’t even dive into the scratch this morning.

LRH Returns After An Adventure

Instead she cluck-clucked at me and led me back into the run where she just stood looking up at me.  “I know,” I told her.  “The black hen should be here somewhere, but she isn’t.”  And, again, the two of us looked under the coop and in every nook and cranny.  To no avail.

On the one hand, I feel totally responsible since the disappearance took place on my watch.  On the other hand, I’m glad that Carol wasn’t on duty.  I’d feel even worse if she felt responsible.  Farmer Nyel tries to console me.  “It’s a chicken, Sydney,” he says.  “Stuff happens,” he says.  “We’ve  lost others, too.  It’s all a part of having chickens.”  I think his attitude is probably quite farmer-like.

All of which I understand.  But still…


Going To Bed With You-Know-Who!

Sunday, June 9th, 2019

I’ve always been an “early to bed, early to rise” kind of person, so “going to bed with the chickens” is not a problem for me.  Ditto “up at the crack of dawn.”   But during these longest days of the year here in the northern climes, our free range chickens are causing me a fair amount of sleep deprivation.

Take today, for instance.  First light is at 4:45 a.m. according to  Sunrise is at 5:23 a.m.  That’s about the time I’m having my first cup of coffee, and even though the chickens are up and stirring in the coop, they don’t really get anxious about door-opening time until 8:00 or 8:30.  By then, they are thirsty and eager to get to their water trough out in the run.  And they are feeling a little peckish about their morning snack.

At the other end of the day, though, they often push the limits.  Although sunset will be at 9:07 tonight, you can bet your basket of eggs that those girls will be out free-ranging in the rhodies until last light at 9:45.  I’ve told them that they are pushing my envelope pretty severely but you know how it is with chickens.  They only listen when they want to.

And speaking of listening — I’ve been noticing that when they hear my voice coming from inside the house (as when I’m talking on the phone) they all gather outside the nearest window to eavesdrop.  If I’m in the dining room, they come up on the front porch and gather under the dining room windows.  When I’m in the library, they scrunch under the hydrangea and cock their heads in an interested sort of way.  I wonder what’s going on in their little gray cells.

When the hummingbirds chase us from window to window around the house, we know that their feeder is empty.  I suspect when the chickens appear to be eavesdropping, they are hopeful that I’m about to bring them some scratch.  Even if it’s last light, I know for a fact that they aren’t signalling lock-down time.

No doubt afternoon naps are the answer to my lack of sleep problem, but I’m resisting them as firmly as I did when I was three years old.  I knew then and i know now that they are a waste of precious time…  And besides, if your mother is making a chocolate cake and your friend comes over to play, guess who gets to lick the bowl while you are sound asleep!!!


Thinning and Slimming

Tuesday, June 4th, 2019

Baby Apples Galore on June Four!

Today was THE most beautiful of Oysterville mornings so, after I woke up the girls with a few treats, I went on a walk-about to see how our garden grows.  “Luxuriously!” I say.  Mary Mary Quite Contrary has nothing on us!  I was especially amazed at our dwarf apple tree, a Rajka which, supposedly, gives a late summer crop.  But it is bursting at its seams already this year.


The Garden Patrol

Last year it produced a puny crop which Nyel thought should be thinned, anyway.  The result was not many of apples to speak of.  I’ve heard that, left to their own devices, apple trees produce large crops every other year and this must surely be the year!  I’m not exactly sure what will happen without Nyel’s tall stature, long reach, and deft hands to do the necessary choosing and picking.  He says that they will self-thin to some extent, but I have no idea how that works.  What I do know is that it is difficult to be a one-legged-thinner so this year will begin a No Thinning policy at our house.

Nyel, Reconnecting

As I did my survey of the garden, I was accompanied by four of our five fowl ladies.  (I think the fifth was busy in the nest box.)  They were giving the beds the down-close-and-personal examination.  I doubt that they know (or care) anything much about how the apple crop is coming along.  As for Nyel, though… I will give him a report complete with pictures when I visit him him Seaside later today.  He will probably have some cogent advice for me which I will follow assiduously — as long as it doesn’t involve ladders!

And speaking of thinning… Nyel has lost about 30 pounds since his hip fracture.  His appetite is beginning to come back, finally!  I hope he soon begins making some solid gains!  One hundred fifty-five pounds is just scary for a six-foot-two man!  Of course, he points out that he’s six-two only on his good side — probably about five-ten if he could stand on his other leg.  And that whole concept is even scarier…