Archive for the ‘Backyard Chickens’ Category

Peaceful Coexistence… More or Less

Saturday, July 11th, 2020

Companionship… Mostly

It’s been three weeks now since Clara and IdaMae came to live at our place and I’m happy to report that integration with the rest of the flock  (if “flock” can be used to describe just two chicken people) is now complete.

Even so, there were some bumps along the way.  For the first week, we kept Clara and IdaMae in their own section of the run — fenced off from Little Red Hen and Slutvana, but within full view of one another.  Slutvana, and to some extent LRH, paced and postured and showed great concern and interest with regard to these potential interlopers.  Clara and IdaMae didn’t seem to give a cluck.  They laid their eggs (one each, every day) and went about the business of being contented chickens with nary a ruffled feather.

Little Red Hen and Farmer Nyel

LRH and Slutvana, on the other hand, went on egg-laying strike.  They scolded me in no uncertain terms when I came down to the coop with food and water and often ignored their own treats in an effort to get into the new girls’ space and see what they were getting.  (Which, of course, was identical to theirs.)  Finally, after a week, and with encouragement from Farmer Nyel, I decided to let them co-mingle.

Not a good idea.

The new girls entered the big run calmly and confidently but Slutvana was on them like shells on an egg!  OMG!  Fortunately, there was a rake leaning up against the coop and without a moment’s thought, I grabbed it and used the handle end to separate the flying feathers.  IdaMae immediately escaped to familiar territory but Clara made the mistake of going under the coop. Slutvana AND Little Red Hen were all over her — wings flapping, claws extended, feathers flying, and unbelievable noises that were beyond clucking.  More like braying!  With a lot of yelling and rake-thrusting I managed to rescue Clara, but she did limp for a few days.  I was distraught though Farmer Nyel assured me it wasn’t serious.

Sometimes It’s Tempting

I waited another three or four days before trying again.  This time I began yelling at the two old girls before I even opened the separating gate.  Only LRH tried any bullying and IdaMae gave as good as she got.  Yay!  I think the new girls had been secretly practicing their moves and they were saying, “Bring it on!”  The four didn’t exactly share treats well at first, but finally they are co-existing peacefully.  For the most part.

But… life with chickens never goes completely smoothly.  For the last ten days there have been NO eggs.  NONE.  Then day before yesterday there was one.  With a hole poked in it but, as far as I could determine, all the egg inside was undisturbed.  Yesterday, same thing.  I have turned the problem over to Farmer Nyel and, as we speak, he is researching Chicken Cannibalism.

If it’s not one damned thing it’s another with chickens…


Out with the old. In with the new.

Sunday, June 28th, 2020

The Scratch Trail

Chickens are curious.  Chickens are smart.  Chickens can learn lots of useful things.  But chickens are not intellectually inclined.  The “why” questions don’t get examined on a regular basis — fortunately for this chicken farmer’s wife.

When I opened the door into the garden for Slutvana and Little Red Hen this morning, they didn’t question my intent at all.  With no hesitation they went forth, full of joy that, after a week of lockdown, they could get out into the greater world.  It wasn’t until I let the new girls, Clara and Ida-Mae, out of the Broody Hen Quarters and into the Big Run that S. and L.R.H. took note of their new circumstances.  Now they were closed out and the new girls were already exploring their vacated quarters with alacrity.  (I doubt if that’s how their little chicken minds expressed it but…)

Slutvana and Little Red Keeping Watch Nearby

I put a ‘scratch trail’ of cracked corn and grapes up the ramp and into the coop for Clara and Ida-Mae.  I waited for a while to see if they would follow it and take note of the feeder, the nest boxes, and the roost inside.  From their vantage point outside the run, S. and L.R.H. were keeping an eye on things, too.  They did not seem altogether pleased with this new turn of events and were still maintaining a close watch when I gave up my own vigil and came inside for my second cup of coffee.

Farmer Nyel is more confident than I about the outcome of this grand experiment.  But… I’m trying to think like a chicken.  Without anticipation.  Which is harder than you might imagine…


Problems Among The Chicken People

Saturday, June 27th, 2020

Slutvana on Patrol

It was gray and wet out as I went out to say “Good Morning” to the girls.  The four of them are still separated — Slutvana-the-Mean and Little Red Hen in the main coop and run area and the two new girls in the separate broody hen area.  I am ever hopeful that they will reach some sort of accommodation with one another, but so far… not so much.

Slutvana is the problem.  She is taking her self-appointed role as Alpha Hen way too seriously, marching up and down at the barrier fence and making threatening noises to the newcomers.  They usually have their backs turned to her and are busy exploring in the grassy areas of their quarters.  In the seven days since we’ve had them, they’ve give us seven eggs.  They are totally sweet, good-natured girls.  We are calling them Clara and Ida-Mae.  Meanwhile, cranky Slutvana and neutral Little Red, between them, have only given us one egg during the same time period!

Clara and Ida-Mae

I tried to explain to Slutvana that she is doing herself no favors.  However, she’s taking no  heed of my words or my tone, as far as I can tell.  On the other hand, she apparently still thinks I’m the Alpha Rooster because as soon as I enter the coop area, she dutifully “assumes the position.”  It’s pretty weird.  And, I must say, we nailed it when we named her.

Totally Territorial

This afternoon I plan to let Slutvana and Little Red out into the garden and lock them out of the coop area for a few hours.  Then, my plan is to entice the new two into the main run, let them explore the coop with its roost and nest boxes and food dispenser — let them get acquainted with the space.  I’m hoping they’ll take advantage of the visiting privileges and begin to get acclimated without that mean old Slutvana around.

Waiting Patiently at the Border Wall

And, of course, I hope that Slutvana and Little Red will take note of Clara and Ida-Mae in their space and see that the world doesn’t end.  Maybe if we can manage that for a few days in a row, we can try co-mingling.  Farmer Nyel thinks it will work.  But… I know for a fact that you never can tell with chickens.

Apples are to swallows as oranges are to…

Monday, June 1st, 2020

Last Year — Success!

It’s hard to tell which are smarter — the swallows or the chickens.  We’ve had many opportunities to observe and consider both this spring.  I vascillate from one to the other but, it’s a lot like comparing little kids in the classroom.  Some are good with some things; some with another.

Take nest-building.  Chickens don’t even get a rating on that one.  The best they can do is scoot their butts around in a pile of straw or shavings and make a little indentation to lay their eggs.  It’s like us saying the indentation on a pillow is constructing the bedroom…

Trial and Error-Error-Error

Barn swallows, on the other hand, get right down to it and, within a day or two, they have their building project done and ready for occupancy.  Most years, anyway.  Although… this year, the couple trying to build in a “usual” place — atop the window ledge on our south porch — has had two nest collapses… so far.  They must not be the same couple who’ve staked out that area the last few years.  Maybe they are the offspring.  They seem new at things.

I tried to tell them that the mud they are using to hold the grasses together is way too wet.  They weren’t having any of it.  This last time, one of them — maybe mom — had actually taken up residence before the mud was dry.  When next I looked, no swallow and the nest was splatted all over porch decking.  Again!

Construction Disaster

Chickens, on the other hand, do seem to listen.  And, as I wrote a few days back, they have a pretty good vocabulary and can understand a lot of what I say.  (Which may not be saying much for my own vocabulary.)  Plus, even if they aren’t getting it, they try.  They cock there heads and give me a beady-eyed look which leads me to believe that they are taking in every word.  Swallows won’t slow down enough to give even the illusion of listening.

As soon as I appear on the scene, they go ballistic, chirping and flitting hither and thither.  Plainly, not interested in  tips for success or other suggestions — like how about moving your nest to a wider support area — like that eave over there?

Cliff Swallows at the Church

Or, why don’t you go talk to your cliff swallow cousins at the church?  They’ve made eight nests just on that east-facing eave, alone!  And without any straw or grass material, either.  Just plain mud.  1,000 trips it took for each nest!  They’ve been done for days, their eggs are laid, and I think there may even be some hatchlings in residence.

Did they listen?  Of course not.  Will they try building a third time?  Probably.  I’ll give them points for instinct and persistence but, when it comes to listening and reasoning… chicken people win!  And I’m not a bit prejudiced!

Face Recognition and Other Chicken Matters

Friday, May 29th, 2020

Yep! It’s Me!
Sydney, 1941

Not too many years ago, there was a program on TV about Face Blindness — the inability to recognize or differentiate faces.  My knee-jerk reaction was, “Aha!  That’s what I have.”  Since then I’ve learned quite a bit about prosopagnosia (technical term) and have concluded that I probably don’t have  that specific problem — just old age and DBF — Dimming Brain Function (not a technical term.)

And then the other day, my friend Pat Krager sent me a list of  “Five Fun Facts About Chickens.”   The very second fact on the list was… yes!  Chickens can remember and recognize over 100 different faces (both human and animal.)  Extremely daunting news to a chicken farmer’s wife who once thought she had Face Blindness!  It wasn’t a quantam leap to conclude that our chickens are smarter than I am, at least in that respect.

The other four facts were not so revelationary.  I had either figured them out or heard them before:
A chicken can can learn to recognize its own name, and the names of other chickens in the flock.  Yes, I’m sure this is true.  Both of our current chickens (and, granted, there are only two) look up or even approach me when I say their names and seem to realize when I’m talking to one and not the other.
Hens and their hatching chicks converse through the shell, allowing chicks to recognize their mother’s voice.  I’ve always understood that this early communication between mother and offspring was true of many members of the animal kingdom.
Chickens are among the closest living relatives to the Tyrannosaurus rex.  Yep.  Teach a Dinosaur Unit to second graders for enough years and you chalk up such knowledge to extraneous information that will probably never come in handy.

Distant Cousin?

A chicken’s vocabulary includes at least 30 words.  All I can say about that is, if you have been reading my blog for very long, “I told you so!  I told you so!  I told you so!”

Mostly, I’m glad to know that Little Red Hen and Slutvana recognize my face because, even though I’ve assured myself that I am not Face Blind, there may come a day when I no longer recognize their’s.  But don’t tell them!  Even if you do know the same 30 words they do!



Sometimes You Just Have To Wonder

Friday, May 22nd, 2020

People never cease to amaze and delight me.  Especially my friends!  Case in point:  this morning I received notification from my friend Mark Peterson that tomorrow (May 23rd – mark your calendar!) is National Drinking With Chickens Day!  I am not so amazed that a day has been set aside for this activity — more like, why just one day? — but that pun-loving Mark knows about it.  And why didn’t we?

I mean, clearly, drinking with chickens is a no-brainer if you are prone to hang out with them.  Which we are!  But that a national day has been set aside to celebrate that backyard-with-chickens activity is totally awesome.  Here we thought we were the only ones…

Photo from Drinking With Chickens website

As soon as I received Mark’s notification, I went on line to find out more.  What I learned is that there is an entire website and blog about  appropriate drink recipes, devoted to this (some would think) rather esoteric activity.    Plus other really weird and wonderful chicken stuff.  The most I can learn about the creator is that her name is Kate E. Richards and she is hysterical —  or at least I think so, even without benefit of a drink.

Whether or not you have backyard chickens and, probably, whether or not you drink, I urge you to check out Kate’s website. The photos alone are worth the experience.  And how can you not be enchanted by someone who writes, “So we have a few pets… They have taken over our entire life. Send help.”  Plus, she called her original (she’s on number 4.0) coop “Free Range Chicken Jail” which is exactly what our chickens call their coop!  Like minds.  All the way around!

That age-old question!

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

Slutvana On The March

Why did the chicken cross the road?  Despite the almost endless possible answers to that age-old riddle — my favorite being,  Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the idiot’s house”. Which is then followed by a knock-knock joke: “Knock knock”, “Who’s there?” “The chicken.” — in Oysterville, the answer is: “to get to Tucker and Carol’s.”

So, yesterday afternoon when I got a phonecall from my neighbor Cyndy saying, “Did you know that Slutvana is in the road,” I wasn’t surprised.  “She’s stopping traffic,” Cyndy laughed — which isn’t so much a commentary on the vehicle activity on Territory Road as it is on the slow and not-quite-deliberate progress of Slutvana.

Little Red On Her Way To Tucker and Carol’s

Cyndy, herself, was in her car, probably returning home from Willapa Bay AiR.  “I’m right in front of your house,” she said.  “And all the guys working next door are out watching her, too.  Should we be rescuing her?”

“Probably not,” was my response.  “She’s most likely on her way to Tucker and Carol’s.  The word’s out, you know.  Those bears aren’t the only ones who like to snack on that wild birdseed Carol puts out every morning.”

We chatted for a minute or two while Slutvana took her time getting to the other side (ahem.)  Cyndy was concerned about how she got out and I told her that short of keeping them in their run (which is surrounded by chicken wire) there seems no way to contain them.  “They’ll scratch their way under the pickets or squeeze through the space between gatepost and fence.  They’re incorrigible,” I told her.”

Foragers at Wachsmuths’ Fire Pit – Photo by Tucker, 2016

“Should I go get her and bring her back?” came the concerned question.  “Or will Tucker return her?”  I reassured her that Slutvana would find her own way home.  Maybe she’d bring Little Red Hen with her.  You never can tell with chickens!




Drama In the Neighborhood

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

Mr? Standing Bear

There has been a lot of bear activity at our end of town this spring — most of it, as far as I know, at Tucker and Carol’s.  This morning I awoke to this email message with accompanying photos from Tucker:

We had a bear visit us this afternoon. He was trying to get into our bird feeder. It was amazing to see him up on his back feet. Carol and I chased him away. We had a big stick, but as soon as we opened the door, he took off. We’re glad that he seems to be afraid of us. He didn’t come back… yet.

Mr? Standing Bear, Sitting

YIKES!  That’s one big bear!  My thoughts flew to Slutvana-the-Wanderer who didn’t come home last night.  I’m pretty sure a recalcitrant chicken might be as tempting to a foraging bear as the morsels in a bird-feeder.

Just then, Nyel called to me that Slutvana was out in the croquet garden, not playing croquet but apparently happy to be foraging for whatever temptations were manifesting themselves in the lawn.

Slutvana Through The Window

I couldn’t help but wonder if she had met up with Mr? Standing Bear and  family while she was out and about.  A few minutes later I took her some scratch and asked her if she’d spent a pleasant night.  She did grace me with a fowlish sort of look but was not inclined to share about any close encounters or new acquaintances.

Still, you never can tell with chickens!  I was glad she was home.

RIP Snowhite

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

Not A Mark On Her

I don’t know if my tears were of relief that we had found her, remorse that we were unable to help her, or regret that her life was so hard and so short.  Poor little Snowhite was in the garden all the time — toes up over by the old gazebo.  Nyel spotted her yesterday morning on his way out to water the hanging baskets.

Farmer Nyel is always the one who notices things.  I am usually oblivious.  I blame my poor eyesight, but maybe I’m just not attentive enough.  Not that it mattered this time.   Nyel took care of her remains, but not until he looked her over carefully.

“Not a mark on her,” he said.  I am so very glad about that part and gratified that I can dismiss thoughts of an off-leash dog that might have caused her demise.  I truly think that she died of “natural causes” and I console myself that, during her short two years we did more for her than for any other chicken we’ve ever had — beginning when she was just a chicklet and one of her nest mates pecked her head right down to the bone.

Chickens In Their Very Own ICU 5-11-18 (culprit and victim)

That time, Farmer Nyel made a little medical helmet for her.  She wore it for quite a while, until the skin grew back and some (but never all) of the feathers.  That was May 11. 2018.

Then there was the time last January when Fred and I had to get her out of the coop so Nyel could treat her for mites.  (Or something.)   Fred proved himself to be a mighty fine chicken wrangler and, once again, Nyel’s medical skills came to the rescue.

But this time, although we saw that she wasn’t feeling well, we couldn’t determine the trouble.  I am so sorry.  And sorry, too, that I couldn’t understand what the remaining two girls were trying to tell me the other day.  They probably knew she was over by the gazebo but chickens aren’t good at leading you to the source of their concern.  Even after twelve years of trying, I still don’t understand chicken-chatter very well.

Last seen on Monday

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

May 9th – Treats for Three

One by one, our chickens are being picked off.  It’s the same old syndrome.  They are backyard chickens but, unfortunately, their English is limited and my Chickenspeak is non-existent.  The fence which surrounds our half-acre (plus or minus) is not chicken proof, although Nyel has our landscape-guy working on that. I don’t know how to tell the girls it isn’t safe to wiggle under or through the pickets.

So, bottom line, the chickens go visiting.  They go to see the neighbors.  They waddle down the lane toward the bay.  They go next door to see how the current construction project is coming along.  Almost always they come home.  But on Monday, Snowhite didn’t.

I was hopeful that she’d show up yesterday.  No such luck.  Slutvana and Little Red Hen were beside themselves.  Every time I went outside, they’d come running.  They murbled and clucked softly, undoubtedly urging me to DO something.  I commiserated and gave them extra treats, but truth to tell, I felt as miserable as they did.  I called and carried on.  So did they.  Unfortunately, in this case, we understood one another perfectly.

Sunbathing Snowhite

I’m pretty sure it’s dogs.  Despite all the sheltering rules,  we’ve had a number of visitors in town lately whose dogs have not been leashed.  Nor, apparently, do their owners care about cleaning up after their pets.  It’s beyond annoying.

Small dogs have even managed to wriggle into the yard and chase our girls.  Years ago we were right here when Polly’s Jack Russell came in, caught a hen bigger than he was, and took off up the street, Farmer Nyel giving chase at full speed.  That time, Farmer and chicken prevailed.  But there have been several incidents that we know of since — plus our three recent mystery disappearances — and “prevail” wasn’t what happened.  Not in English and not in Chickenspeak.

Short of keeping the girls locked in their run (which is muddy and unappealing at this time of year), I’m not sure what to do.  If I were certain about the source of the danger it might help.  I dislike the feeling that a local dog might be the culprit, but if that’s the case, the two remaining chickens had better shelter in place for a time.  Just like the rest of us.