Archive for the ‘Backyard Chickens’ Category

Phew! I’m glad I figured that out!

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t “a girlie” sort of girl when I was young.  I didn’t much like playing with dolls.  I didn’t like playing dress up.  It never occurred to me to get into my mother’s cosmetics.

On the other hand, I don’t think I was a tomboy, either, although it is true that the top of my wish list was always an electric train and I had a secret desire for one of those box scooters like my neighbor Robert Reading had.  I don’t think I ever wanted a squirt gun or a bow and arrow or anything sort of projectile that I might aim at anyone else.

I did ride horseback, climb trees, go camping, and get muddy.  Those things definitely weren’t the prerogative of boys.  But I wasn’t much into sports or long hikes or sailing or anything that took much physical effort.  I’d much rather spend an afternoon reading or playing a board game or maybe trying to write a story for the children’s section of the Oakland Tribune.

All these thoughts converged the other morning when I had to actually enter the chicken run AFTER the girls and boys were up and about – yes, including the evil black rooster! Their water was frozen solid and I was coming to their rescue, a fact that I told them over and over as I bravely unlatched their gate and walked into their midst.

At first the evil one just looked at me and my big bottles of water –plastic liter bottles once holding tonic and the perfect size for taking down to the coop to replenish their supply.  But, before I could reach the trough, he became all too interested.  He didn’t flap his wings or aim his spurs at me, but he did come marching right for me at a good clip.

Before I could think, I aimed one of the water bottles at him and squeezed.  A big stream of water got him right in the face.  He stopped all forward progress and just stood there looking confused.  I didn’t wait to see what his next move might be.  In two giant steps I was at the trough pouring in that water and was outta there before he could say “cock-doodle-brrr!”.   After I had re-latched the gate, I took a look.  There he was at the trough with the other six, happily slaking his thirst.

“A squirt gun!” I thought.  “That’s what I need.”  But I really don’t like the idea of aiming any kind of gun at anyone – even that evil rooster.  “And I don’t have to!” was my happy realization.  “A water bottle will do just fine.”

“It might as well be…”

Monday, February 11th, 2019

I think I’m having an early attack of Spring Fever.  And not the good kind, either.  Not the Frank Sinatra kind – I’m as restless as a willow in a windstorm/I’m as jumpy as a puppet on a string/I’d say that I had spring fever/But I know it isn’t spring…

No.  It’s more Ellen Bailey’s sort of Spring Fever.  She wrote of it in her poem “House Cleaning Blues” — I have the house cleaning blues/I look around nd see so much to do/I look at the walls, the windows, and the floors/I see heaps of dust layered like boards… 

I’m not precisely certain what brought on this onslaught of stressful thought.  It is true that we are expecting a spate of company in the next few weeks.  And, it is also true that the stains and spots on the carpet have been glaring up at me for some time and the furniture has gone far beyond my mother’s claim that “old houses need a little patina of dust.”  But under usual circumstnces I am successful at ignoring such annoying nudges.

“So,” I ask myself, “what is going on that I might be trying to avoid?”  For most of my eight decades on this planet, I’ve found that household and garden chores are usually accomplished when I want to disengage from something difficult.  Like a research project.  Or a writing task.  And, right now I have several such endeavors underway that could be considered culprits.  One is the beginnings of a book about chickens…

Wouldn’t you know?

 

 

A Three-Egg Morning

Saturday, February 9th, 2019

Our Place During State of Emergency

We woke up to a light dusting of snow here in Oysterville and to the news that Governor Inslee has declared a state of emergency for all of Washington.  Winter Storm Maya is the culprit but, this time, Oysterville appears to be located in some sort of banana belt.  It’s windy out but, otherwise, nothing in comparison to the five or six inches of snow that blanketed us earlier this week.

However, the porch thermometer said 32º Fahrenheit and I hadn’t closed up the coop door last night.  All of which translates thusly:  the chickens (and roosters) are out in the run, their water may be frozen, and I need to take a steaming teakettle down and bravely go where only Helen Dietz has gone before.

I put on my down vest and barn coat over my bathrobe, slipped on my knitted hat (thanks again, Rosemary!), scooped up a can of scratch, shoved my bare feet into my boots, and ventured forth.  The wind was wicked and the footing a bit treacherous, but nothing like the icy aftermath of our last snowfall.  I made it to the coop in short order, only to find that the puddles in the run and the water in the trough were not frozen after all.  Yay!

Black Rooster Poised to Protect

The boys and girls were all huddled under the coop but came out to greet me.  Make that ‘to threaten me’ in the case of that evil black rooster.  I chose not to risk going inside the run.  I just tossed the scratch in through the chicken wire ceiling.  I was so relieved not to have to fend off the inevitable rooster attack, I didn’t even mind the scratch blowback from that relentless wind!

Best of all – there were three eggs in the nest boxes!  Good girls!  Working right through that state of emergency!  They should get a special commendation from the Governor, doncha think?

Reunited At Last!

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

Coopward Bound!

Yesterday, with very little fanfare, Nyel mounted his Knee Scooter and headed east.  Through the south garden, over our scraggly winter lawn and down to the chicken coop.  The girls and boys, ever attuned to goings-on beyond the coop, gathered at the hog-wire fencing and watched his approach.  They were quiet – perhaps awe struck – as they tried to figure out what was coming their way.

I thought briefly of the rabbits in Watership Down and their fear of motor vehicles which they called hrududil (plural for hrududu.)  I wondered what chickens would call a knee scooter and if they even recognized that it was Farmer Nyel who was propelling it.  As always, it’s hard to tell with chickens.  It was even hard to tell with Farmer Nyel – I don’t know if he was expecting a little more fluff and flurry after his three-and-a-half-month absence.

Waiting for Farmer Nyel

Perhaps of greater importance to the flock was their release from confinement.  As soon as I was safely back in the house and out of harm’s way from that killer rooster, Farmer Nyel opened the gate and let them into the yard – also a first in three-and-a-half months.  He reports that they were initially a bit tentative but, with the enticement of some scratch, they were soon off and pecking – Backyard Chickens once more, ‘just as God intended” as our friend Ti would say.

Nyel spent an hour or more doing his Farmer due diligence – cleaning the coop, putting fresh cedar shavings on the floor and in the nest boxes and, generally checking things out. As requested, he called from his cell phone when he was ready to head back to the house.  I wanted a picture of Farmer and Flock and was willing to brave a confrontation with you-know-who to document this big red-letter day.

Reunion

But, no worries.  When Farmer Nyel paused in his homeward trek, all seven chickens gathered round for the offered treats with ‘nary a glance at me.  The little red hen even ate from his hand just as she had done in the past.  Who knew there was enough memory space in that teeny-tiny brain to remember that trick!  Nyel didn’t let on but I’m pretty sure he was pleased.  As for the chickens… I’d wager they were, too.

Tall, Shimmery, and Rooster-Proof!

Sunday, January 27th, 2019

 

Helen Wolfe Dietz

When Helen strode on into the chicken run with ‘nary a glance from that killer rooster, the irony was not lost on me.  Helen is one of the Rose City Mixed Quartet and, like all of them, she is close to the six-foot mark.  That she is blond (well, maybe more silver these days) and beautiful might not have had any bearing on things, but the height probably did.  That she, like her musical cohorts, delights in singing “Short People” at each of their Oysterville House Concerts leapt to mind as Farmer Nyel’s entire flock, including the cockamamie doodle, gazed up at her with foul affection.

Of course, it might have been that they were grateful to see that she was bringing water.  Their trough was bone dry – a state of affairs that Helen had discovered on an egg-collecting mission yesterday morning.  Well, thought I, it was bound to happen sometime.  Usually, I get down to the coop before the girls and boys wake up or at least on a morning after I’ve remembered to lock them up.  But, I had been far too busy partying and having a good time the night before to do my due diligence in the chicken department, so now… I would have to face those rooster spurs.

“I’ll do it!” Helen said.  I protested, but weakly, and so it was that all of us (except dear Farmer Nyel) trooped down to the coop.  Dale took his camera.  Cameron answered each cock-a-doodle-do with stunning soprano trills that caused an almost palpable group gasp from the flock.  I trailed a bit behind (shorter legs) and wondered how I could assist.

As for Helen, she strode on out, lugging five big bottles of water.  Without hesitation, she unlatched the gateway, entered the run, and closed the gate behind her as we all waited to see what would happen next.  What happened was astounding!  All seven chicken stood stock still, heads slightly cocked looking up (way up) at Helen in that weird one-eyed stare that chickens do so well.  When they saw her move toward their water container, they gathered round with silent expectation.  Even the killer rooster.  She was “golden” (or silvery, take your pick) as they say.

Watering the Flock

Wow!  I don’t know if it was her bravery and no-nonsense attitude or if she is actually a chicken whisperer or if it was simply a matter of tall.  Whatever it was, I probably have no chance of replicating it, so I’d better be more diligent about my duties in the future.  After all, I think my growth spurt has been over since 1949.

On Automatic Pilot

Saturday, January 19th, 2019

With Coop Door Open

While I don’t recommend it as a way of life – and I’m sure the chickens agree – our flock does very well without farmer intervention, at least for short periods of time.  This morning (Saturday) was the first day since Wednesday that I’ve been to the coop to check on those girls and, lest you worry… they are all fine.  I think.  It was still dark and I had forgotten a flashlight.

Though the black rooster was announcing the day already, he had not yet led the parade out of the coop and into the run.  That seems to be the routine every day and, even though the coop door has remained open, the light level apparently had not yet reached the lumins (or whatever they are) that he feels is safe for making the day’s entrance to the greater world.

The white rooster was silent for as long as I was doing my due diligence.  He usually doesn’t start crowing until the sun is actually peeking over the Willapa Hills – something about the trust factor that the day is really beginning in earnest.  He defers to the black rooster in all aspects of flock management and fowl courtship – even takes a place in line among the girls when exiting the coop.  I’ve never seen him come out first or second or even last.  Usually third or fourth.

Today’s Bounty

There were eight eggs waiting for me in the south nest box, at least as far as I could tell.  (That’s the nest box of preference lately, though there are two others equally outfitted. Go figure.) I had to go by touch, and pretty hesitantly at that.  Those girls sometimes leave behind more than eggs among the cedar shavings and, without the benefit of light, gathering eggs can be a little tricky.  Also, I’m sure that Ms. Crazy Hen has probably left one or two eggs on the coop floor or in the run.  I’ll be going back down there in a few minutes to see what I can see – with a little help from my friend the sun.

Farmer Nyel

But the point is… (if you knew Gordon Schoewe, that phrase should be wonderfully familiar…) those chickens, as far as I could see, did just fine without being worried by unnecessary Farmer Fussing.  As long as they can get out of the coop and into the run for access to water and back into the coop for access to food and to the nest boxes, and as long as the gate to the outside world is closed and their parameters secured by strong fencing… those girls are perfectly fine on their own for a day or two.

But I don’t really recommend that as a way of life for chickens.  They need their primary caregiver and, in lieu of that, the Farmer’s Wife is acceptable.  Barely.  (Farmer Nyel’s physical therapy begins February 8th.  I hope the first lesson is titled “How to Get Safely to The Coop and Back.”)

It all begins at home…

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

Water Bottles

“What are all those bottles lined up on the floor of your laundry room?” was the question.

“And well you might ask,” said I.  “They are the bane of my existence.  Or one of them.” And I went on to explain that they began as liter-size tonic water bottles at Jack’s Country Store.  Nyel, who is into recycling right down to the pill bottles and bubble wrap, drinks a lot of tonic.  But, as with most of the other “stuff” of our lives, he first recycles those containers right here at home.  (This might be a good place to add that other banes, if that word can be plural, are the tubs of recycled plastic, glass and aluminum and, even more banish, the huge compost bin out in the garden.  Just sayin’…)

Go where???

For years and years those bottles were washed out and filled with clean Oysterville water.  We stored them on our “pantry” shelves – shelving from CostCo that takes up a short wall in that same laundry room and upon which we put the overflow food supplies.  Except, gradually, as the number of water née tonic bottles increased, the back-up food supplies diminished.  Oh well, it was all in a good cause. As “right thinking citizens,” we were preparing for the eventuality of a tsunami disaster.

However, as we considered the maximum twenty-minute time period that every authority and expert says we “might” have should we feel an earthquake or (miraculously) hear the warning siren, we began to re-think.  Obviously, it would take us the full-time allotment to get the (now) water bottles into our car, never mind survival food and other gear.  Not that we don’t have a get-away pack always in the trunk but lately the talk is to be prepared for several months, not several days.  So… bottom line is I think we’ve given up.

Compost Bin

Luckily though, those bottles of water are just the perfect size for the Substitute Chicken Farmer (that would be me) to lug down to the coop each morning along with a can of scratch and a bucket of food.  One-by-one, the bottles have been emptied into the chicken trough – a far easier proposition than dragging 50 feet of hose down there every other day or so.  And, it’s not like I don’t refill those bottles periodically with good old Oysterville tap water.

Unfortunately, lately, the Oysterville Water Works has been having some quality problems.  The water is safe enough, or so we are assured, but it has a yellow-ish cast to it – sometimes more toward the amber than the pee-colored.  It actually is not too noticeable except when those “new” bottles of water are sitting cheek-by-jowl with the ones from last year.  (Oh.  Did I mention that Nyel used to mark every re-filled bottle with a date?  I think it was part of a replace-and-refresh plan in the beginning… but you know about all those best-laid plans.)

Recycling Tubs

Anyway, now we have bottles full of old, clear water and bottles full of new yellow-tinted water.  It’s the latter that I’ve been taking to the chickens of a morning.  I don’t think they mind.  But… it’s always hard to tell with chickens.

Crazy Lady in the Coop?

Saturday, December 29th, 2018

Usually, it’s difficult to tell when a chicken crosses the mental line from sane to insane.  Mostly, I think, the trouble is that we have no “chicken normal” to measure against.  Which, when you come to think of it, is the same difficulty we have with our other friends and neighbors.

Sometimes, though, there are clear signs – at least with chickens.  Like when one of them starts laying her eggs just any old where.  In the last few weeks, I’ve found eggs (one at a time, mind you) on the floor of the coop, outside in the run near the water trough, and way under the coop building, itself.  The fact that it’s a new behavior – for months all eggs have been exactly where they should be – leads me to rule out immaturity or a learning deficiency.  Plus, there are eggs properly laid in the nest boxes so I’m pretty sure it’s just one hen that’s gone ’round the twist (as my English friends say).

The situation reminds me of a cat we had back in the early sixties.  She was absolutely beautiful – small and dainty with long black fur.  We called her Sadie.  I can’t remember how we got her but I do know that, at the same time, we had another cat, a big white-bellied Tabby who had her kittens in the laundry basket – nine of them!  The fact that she didn’t have enough buttons on her vest to feed them didn’t faze her a bit.  Within minutes of their arrival, she divided them into two groups – four to her left and five to her right.  All nine grew fat and sassy and, as I recall, I found “good homes” for them among the families of my first-grade students.

But… back to Sadie.  Within days of my giving away the last of those nine kitties, Sadie dropped (literally) her own batch of four kittens one-by-one as she walked down the hallway from one end of the house to the other.  She was totally unconcerned and disinterested.  In fact, we weren’t at all sure she even noticed.  Mother Tabby, however, was right behind her picking up those babies as they fell forth.  She (Tabby) took all four of them (one-by-one) back to the recently vacated laundry basket and happily raised them without a word of admonition to Sadie.

Obviously, Sadie was a little tetched – or, at the very least, had no mothering instinct whatsoever.  What’s going on in our coop isn’t as clear to me.  A crazy chicken?  Probably.  But I don’t think egg-laying can be equated to any sort of maternal instinct so it’s not that kind of problem.  Maybe a little dementia?  Or, perhaps, she’s just acting out because she misses Farmer Nyel.    As always, it’s really hard to tell with chickens…

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.