Archive for the ‘Backyard Chickens’ Category

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!

Russian Orloff In A Family Way!

Monday, October 8th, 2018

Broody Svetlana

In all the years (ten) that we’ve had chickens, we’ve only had two hens go broody.  The first time was five or six years ago and, in that instance, we had no roosters.  That doesn’t seem to make much difference to the ladies of the coop.  They apparently don’t pay attention during Sex Education 101.  When they decide to have a family, they gather up all available eggs and sit on them, waiting for motherhood to happen.  Never mind that whole fertility thing.

That first time, we bought some fertile eggs from our down-the-street neighbors, Gordie and Susie Andrews.  Our hen accepted the trade-off and, in three weeks, hatched out two chicks who successfully joined the flock (only to be captured along with everyone else by marauding raccoons a few weeks later.)

This time, two out of seven of our flock are roosters.  Robust roosters!  And their favorite hen is this (now broody) Russian Orloff.  Since the roosters first discovered what being cocky was all about, they’ve been hanging out with her – won’t leave her alone, in fact.  She doesn’t seem to mind.  (Farmer Nyel calls her “Svetlana-the-Russian-Slut” or sometimes Slutvana, but don’t tell her. Now that she is in a family way, we want her to keep her dignity intact.)

Brooding Area in Progress

She “went broody” on Sunday, September 30th.  She’d been acting a bit moody before that, but on the last day of September, she refused to leave the nest box.  Period.   She was sitting on two eggs and Farmer Nyel placed three more newly-laid eggs from the other nest boxes under her ample girth.  In the best brooding fashion, she has not left her little clutch since – not that we have seen, anyway.  She probably sneaks out for a little water now and then, but until October 21st (EHD – Estimated Hatching Day), she will continue her maternal vigil.

The nest boxes are fully two feet off the coop floor – not a good spot for baby chicks to hatch.  Farmer Nyel’s broken leg is quite enough for one backyard chicken operation.)  So… we are trying to work out a safe place to move Mama and her eggs.  I do hope I’m up to the task.  Broody Svetlana is not one bit approachable right now.  In fact, one look at her face and you know how ‘broody’ got it’s second meaning!  YIKES!

A Peek at Peak Production

Thursday, September 13th, 2018

Ready for Collection

Six eggs yesterday!  That’s 100% efficiency from the six ladies of the coop.  “Why?” we ask them.  “It’s September,” we tell them.  “The days are getting shorter, not longer,” we point out.  “During the Spring and Summer when you older girls should have been laying, you were on strike,” we remind them.  “What’s going on?”

Chickens – even grown up lady chickens – never answer.  They keep quiet about their egg-laying habits.  But they do seem to smile when we ask.  And they definitely brag after each production success.  Such a clucking and squawking from the coop! I’m sure they are feeling quite smug.

Even on the Coop Floor

But it’s the two roosters who are crowing to beat their record.  Not that they have anything to do with the egg count.  People often ask about that, mistaking the presence of roosters with the arrival of eggs.  No correlation, of course.  Just like with all of us egg-producers, hens can do that part of the job all by themselves.  They just can’t hatch chicks without those roosters around to fertilize the eggs.

And, of course Mrs. Hen has to feel family-minded before she will decide to “go broody” and forego the pleasures of coop run and garden for three weeks.  She has to be of a mind to sit around on her nest day and night, leaving only once in a while to have a bite of food or a sip of water.  It’s a pretty big commitment and not every good layer is a good sitter.

Part of that lack of nesting instinct can be laid (ahem) right at chicken breeders’ doorsteps.  In an effort to get maximum production from hens, farmers have eschewed the good brooders and have developed many breeds that show little inclination toward parenthood. Through their efforts, Silkies, Cochins, Orpingtons, Brahmas, and Sussex are the five broodiest domestic breeds for home hatching purposes.  We don’t have any of those.

Six for Six

Among the ten breeds known to be the best of the layers, though, we do have one:  a Rhode Island Red.  The others – just your garden variety girls without any claim to fame.  So… maybe yesterday was a fluke.  We definitely aren’t complaining —  just hoping that this is more than a tantalizing peek at the production possibilities.  We’ll see.

Shhh! Don’t tell the girls! Or guys!

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

On occasion, I have lamented that communication with our girls (and guys) is somewhat difficult given the language barrier.  We understand some of what they say, of course, as in there is no mistaking the exultation of a hen who has just laid an egg.  Nor is it hard to know what the busy cluck-cluck-clucking is all about when they see us coming with treats.  And, even though they play dumb when we scold them for going AWOL under the fence, we know there is some understanding there – our tone of voice followed by coop lockdown, if nothing else.

But, yesterday when I was discussing chicken treats with a neighboring (well, Seaview) chicken farmer, I was thankful our conversation couldn’t be understood.  Not that the ladies and their consorts were anywhere nearby.  There was absolutely no danger of their overhearing the conversation (although, as I’ve said many times, “You never can tell with chickens.”)  Nevertheless, I couldn’t help thinking that what I was hearing would be better kept to myself.

It started with my Farmer Friend’s rather offhand remark that it’s hard for them to get chicken-sitters.  Since I didn’t know where he was going with that, I kept my own counsel about our wonderful chicken-sitting neighbors, but I did ask if there wasn’t someone who lived near them who wouldn’t mind checking in on their flock a couple of times a day.

“Well…” he said hesitantly, “the trouble is the treats.”  And, he went on to explain that their girls get treats three times a day.  At ten o’clock: cottage cheese.  At noon: dried meal worms.  At four o’clock: grapes. Talk about living the life of luxury!  Our girls and guys would no doubt go on strike for better ‘treat’ment if they knew.

The standard treat around here is cracked corn which they get at roll call in the morning and just before lock-down at night (sometimes).  Occasionally, if we have corn on the cob, they get the left-over cobs and, if there happen to be a few cracker crumbs or other morsels that Chef-Nyel-the-Thrifty doesn’t need, the flock may score something extra with breakfast.

We think it’s onerous enough for Tucker and Carol to do chicken duty twice a day when needed.  Those Seaview chickens apparently require attention five times a day!!  I didn’t ask exactly how the treats are delivered.  I have secret visions of china and crystal on a low linen-covered board in the chicken coop.  Whatever you do, please don’t mention any of this to our girls and guys!  It might be the one time they’d understand English perfectly.

The Learning Curve

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

Patient Teacher

Back in the dark ages, when I returned to college to earn my teaching credential, I was required to take “methods classes.”  They were all about how kids learn and how to best optimize their natural proclivities in the classroom.  I found those courses to be  very practical, but I’m here to tell you that nothing I learned there works especially well with chickens.

It’s not that chickens can’t learn.  We’ve all seen those YouTube videos of chickens walking on balance beams and jumping through hoops on demand – all for a few kernels of corn.  And most of the chickens we have had over the years have learned the basics of successful coop living.  Keyword:  most.  Some seem to know the tricks of sleeping on the roost and laying eggs in the nest box automatically.  Presumably they learn where to do what by observing the others.  They don’t really talk about it with outsiders.  It seems to be another Guild Secret and I’m guessing that it involves the learning method called Careful Observation.

Being Home Schooled?

Our youngest girls are beginning to lay.  We know that because, all of a sudden, we are getting perfect miniature eggs.  I think of them as “practice eggs.”  Most of our young hens go through that stage for a bit before managing to lay normal sized eggs.  Getting the size just right is no mean feat.  It’s during this practice period that a girl is likely to lay a huge, double-yolked egg which logic says must be painful.  Among chickens not bred to that sort of thing, it seldom happens more than once or twice.  Trial and Error is definitely a big driver among chicken learning methods.

There seems to be some confusion, though, about the purpose of the nest boxes.  The pullets often sleep there rather than on the roost.  Farmer Nyel will probably have to invoke the Because I Say So learning method to correct that problem.  Of course, the operable word isn’t “say.”  Teaching recalcitrant chickens where to bed down involves 1) going to the coop after dark, 2) taking the sleeping offender out of the nest box, and 3) setting her on the roost next to another chicken.  Sometimes the process needs to be repeated several times.  A gigantic pain in the tush (farmer’s, not chicken’s.)

Around the Watering Trough

Meanwhile, at least one of our youngest ladies has taken to laying her eggs under the coop and hiding them behind a large food storage tub.  The Farmer caught a glimpse of such an egg quite by accident and had to enlist the help of his cane to retrieve it.  Perhaps that young hen was thinking it best not to lay her egg in the spot where she usually sleeps.  Good thinking on her part, but based on a few basic misunderstandings.

We are hoping that some of these topics will be clarified as the girls gather around their watering trough.  Now that they are on their own, it seems to be one of the few places where they are consistently in close enough proximity to have an in-depth discussion.  But… it’s hard to tell with chickens.

The Secret Life of Our Americauna

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

Backyard Chickens

“Are you missing a chicken?” Tucker asked us the other morning.  He was calling from the lane, down by the “No Cars Please” sign. He had discovered a pile of brown feathers.

“I don’t think so,” was my reply but when I asked Nyel he said we were, indeed, missing a chicken.  The Americauna had not come the previous night when he called the chickens to lock them in. Oh oh!

But, she showed up later in the day looking none the worse for wear.  No missing feathers – not that we could tell.  She’s big and very fluffy – not sleek like some breeds.  Depending on where her feathers might have gone missing, it would be hard to tell.  Plus, she’s secretive – keeps her own counsel, you might say.  In fact, we aren’t even sure she’s a true Americauna.  That breed lays light blue eggs, presumably.  Hers are brown.  She won’t talk about it.

Americauna in Nest Box

She’s a large chicken, seven or eight pounds – considered “dual purpose” which means good for meat or for eggs.  We are only interested in the eggs and she’s rated ‘good’ in that department – medium-sized and three or four a week.  Americaunas are described as having “a muff and beards and are very hardy and sweet.”  Since her return, she’s spent almost all her waking hours in the nest box — but, she’s not laying.  Gone broody?  Maybe.  But she should be producing eggs to sit on.  She won’t talk about that either.

So, what was she doing away from the coop the night of August 17th?  Whose feathers were those that were seen in the lane and reported by Tucker?  If they did not belong to her, did she perhaps have an altercation with a foreign chicken?  So far, there are no clear answers and no indictments to be made.  The Americauna seems, for now, beyond reproach.

We would feel more inclined to do a full investigation if it had been the Russian Orloff who had gone missing.  She, too, is a large chicken whose ancestors once went by the name ‘Chlianskaia’ and later they were simply known as ‘Russians.’ I’m not sure when or how Count Orloff-Techesmensky got into the act but he, apparently, was quite an enthusiast of that particular breed and introduced them to the European and American public.  By one name or other, they were being imported into the United States as early as 1875.

Russian Orloff – On Guard Duty?

Our Americauna and the Russian Orloff are good friends.  They hang out together when they are free-ranging in the backyard.  They enjoy dust baths together and are equally unfriendly to the newer members of the coop.  That they might be up to clandestine activities is always a possibility.  But the Orloff has not been missing from the coop, nor has she been engaged in any secretive behavior that we know of.  Not time, yet, to call for a Special Investigator.  But we are keeping an eye out for an interpreter.

Re-thinking the sex-linked chicken thing.

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

In April… who knew?

As every backyard chicken farmer knows, baby chickens can be seriously deceitful.  They are cute and fluffy and exude that friendly, cuddly quality.  You give them lots of attention dreaming of the eventual returns for your efforts.  Eggs.  Lots and lots of eggs.

In that regard, we have been primed since childhood:


Higgledy Piggledy,
My black hen,
She lays eggs
For gentlemen;
Sometimes nine,
And sometimes ten,
Higgledy Piggledy,
My fat hen.

But, a week or two ago, our black hen began cock-a-doodle-doing and making seriously un-hen-like moves on the other ladies of the coop. Apparently our feathered beauty was a rooster in disguise!  Now that wouldn’t be very unusual in a ‘normal’ situation in which Mrs. Broody Hen sits on a clutch of eggs and they hatch without any gender announcements.  No pink or blue swaddling clothes to distinguish the girl chicks from the boys.  It’s hard to tell with down and feathers.

Two Roosters

Our latest batch of chickens, however, have been hatchery bred-and were purchased in a batch called “sex-linked.” That means, in my limited understanding, that they were cross-bred chickens whose color at hatching is differentiated by sex, thus making it easier to distinguish females from males.  So, we ordered sex-linked hens and were assured that in 90% of the cases, hens were what we’d get.

That’s nine times out of ten, right?  So, when one of our five sex-linked female chicks turned out to be a beautiful black rooster, we tried to be philosophical about the odds not being in our favor. But, yesterday when the white “hen” began making moves on the other girls in our flock, we were instantly on alert.  Two roosters??   Who knew our order for five sex-linked females would include two sex-linked males instead?

Farmer Nyel says two roosters in a flock of eight is one too many guys.  When I asked him why he thought so, his answer was, “Who would be in charge?”  Say what???   I’m still thinking about that response.  Such a guy thing!

And, it probably means another trip to the poultry auction in Chehalis…

The First Time Ever

Sunday, July 29th, 2018

Nyel and Sydney at the Olympic Club

Yesterday, we went to the poultry auction in Chehalis.  With us were neighbors Carol and Tucker and one very loud, very handsome, very mean banty rooster.  And did I say loud?  He was in a box just behind the back seat where Carol and I were sitting, and he protested pretty much constantly for the two-and-a-half-hour drive.

I don’t think any of us were too sympathetic.  We’ve all had issues with that bird from the get-go.  He had just ‘showed up’ at Tucker and Carol’s and proved to be a faithful and loud 5:30 a.m. crower.  Very loud.  And we all thought we were doing a good thing when Farmer Nyel and Tucker “rescued” him and introduced him to our flock.  I think we all thought (or at least hoped) that his owner would come looking for him.  No such luck.

Rescue Rooster at the Auction

So, when we heard about the poultry auction in Chehalis we decided to make a day of it.  None of us had ever been to a poultry auction which was eye-opening in itself.  Scores of hens and roosters, guinea fowl and turkeys, were in cages – individually and in family groups – waiting for the 11 a.m. starting time.  Farmer Nyel filled out the paperwork for Rescue Boy and we turned him over to one of the auction assistants.  We were assured that we’d receive a check in the mail within nine days.  Or we could stay and get paid on the spot.  As interesting as it all was, we left just as things began.

We headed for Centralia.  Nyel and I wanted to introduce Tucker and Carol to the historic (and still in use) 1912 train station and the old Olympic Club right across the street – now a McMenamin’s.  We had lunch there and then spent an hour or so exploring the street fair – an annual antiques and junk event – that we had just happened upon.  Another first and maybe the day’s highlight for the two men.

Tucker and Carol at the Olympic Club

Shortly after we got home, I looked out the east window and there was Ms. Russian Orloff right up on the porch, perhaps looking for Rescue Guy.  (It was the last place I’d seen them together – just a day or so ago.)  But before I could feel any fowl sympathy, here came our new black hen-turned-rooster running right for that lady hen.  Slam bam, he had his way with her was on his way without even a thank you, mam!  That was one event yesterday that probably wasn’t for the first time.

About those birds and bees…

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

Strutting His Stuff

There’s a lot of getting-right-down-to-it behavior among our chickens these days.  Apparently, the roosters (who seemed to know what to do from the get-go) have finally convinced the hens to comply with their desires.  Each of the two roosters has a favorite lady.  It’s the Russian Orloff for the little banty rooster and the Americauna for the young black cockerel.  But, when the urge strikes, any of the seven girls seem to be fair game.

They are sexing all over the place!  (“Sexing” is how a seven-year-old I used to know described her newly found knowledge of the birds and bees.  Great term!)  It’s the Garden of Eden out in our yard.  If any of these hens goes broody this winter, we are likely to have quite a crop of hatchlings.

Speaking of which – I am continually surprised at the lack of basic knowledge concerning the chicken and egg order of things.  The most common question seems to be, “But don’t you need a rooster to have eggs?”  Obviously, those folks missed out on Reproduction 101 when they were in school.  And they definitely weren’t farm kids.

Last Year

Sexing in our garden, though, has not been confined to the poultry residents.  As evidenced by the nests hither and thither – swallows under the eaves and over the lintels; hummingbirds among the lilacs; robins in the trees out in the lane – there’s been a lot of family planning going on around here.  Nyel says it’s my basic nesting instinct that objects to the removal any of the nests once they are occupied by eggs.  For my part, I’m not sure why “the mess” seems so unwelcome considering some of our own unsightly corners…  It’s a yearly “discussion” around here.  (And, lest you jump to unwarranted conclusions, Farmer Nyel is not the only cleaner-upper in the household.)

As for the bees’ part of that old birds and bees expression– our ceanothus (California lilac) has been abuzz for months.  There is no shortage of bee activity here.  Someone recently told me that there are at least five different varieties of bumble bee that have been working the gardens of the Peninsula this summer.  Yay!  And, along those lines, the little corner of my garden that I planted with “butterfly friendly” flowers a few years ago is doing its job too!

Yep, it’s a regular Garden of Eden here in Oysterville!

You never know when it comes to chickens…

Monday, July 16th, 2018

And now there are two!

Saturday was a big day for the denizens of our chicken coop.  First was the cock-a-doodle-doing of not one but two roosters!  Say what??

For some time, Farmer Nyel has been suspicious of one of our April hatchlings.  “That chicken’s comb is getting bigger that the two other girls’… I think ‘she’ might be a rooster.”

Sure enough.  Saturday morning that black teenaged chicken found his voice. All morning long, he practiced crowing while hiding in the rhododendrons at the west end of the garden.  Every time he crowed, the black and white “rescue rooster” (who stood his ground near the oldest ladies of the flock) answered.  We wondered if there would be a confrontation.

So far… detente in the coop!

But we soon had another problem – a pit bull in the yard!  No collar.  No trailing leash.  No apparent owner.  Chasing chickens everywhere.  The chickens quickly found ways to belly under the fence and were gone.  The roosters went silent – no hint as to where any of the nine might be.  The canny dog hung around in the yard (but mostly out of sight) all day – waiting for those chickens to come home.  Nyel did what he could to scare off the dog and collect the chickens.  No dice.

By dusk, the dog had disappeared and when Nyel went out with scratch and called his flock, all but two came dutifully from wherever they’d been hiding.  Two of the three oldest girls did not make it home.  We were pretty sure what had happened.

But… Sunday morning, there they were, waiting outside their gate for Farmer Nyel.  All chickens accounted for!  All chickens locked inside the coop and run for the rest of the weekend.  No more sign of the pit bull.  If the chickens know where he came from or who he belongs to, they have yet to share their information.  Nor are they telling where they hid out until the danger had passed.  As always… you never know when it comes to chickens.