Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

Wanted: Under-the-House Belly-Wrigglers!

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

Red House Cuzzins, 2014

Quick!  Before you kids get too big!  We need a few of you fifth generation Red House Cuzzins to come for an egg hunt.  But not in the usual nest boxes down at the coop.  Way too easy.  And not an Easter Egg hunt, either.  This egg hunt would take you into the secret spaces around our yard and maybe into the creepy crawl-spaces under the house.

As you might know if you or your folks have been checking my blog in recent months, our hens have not been laying much lately.  In fact, weeks go by and… no eggs in the nest boxes!  We don’t think the girls are ailing in any way – good appetites, good foraging skills, full of clack and cluck!  And we don’t really think they are on strike – no marching up and down in front of the house with signs!

Chickens On Strike

Our friends in Seaview have chickens and they had the same problem recently.  Erik thought that maybe, since they, too, are free-rangers… just maybe they had decided to lay their eggs in some secret place out in the garden.  So, he went hunting.  And, sure enough!  He found their stash – eleven eggs out behind a big clump of rhododendrons!

Erik and the Stash

I’ve read that hens like to lay their eggs alongside other eggs which explains why, even though we have three nest boxes, we used to find three or four eggs in one nest box and none in the others.  That bit of information makes me wonder. Plus the fact that I noticed a number of times this summer that our alpha hen heads right for the rhododendrons near the house when we let the girls out in the morning…  And, I strongly suspect the others follow suit later in the day.

Behind the Rhododendrons

At first, I thought that the area under the rhodies must be especially good pickings, bug and worm-wise.  But… maybe not.  Maybe it’s that dark, quiet area just behind that is calling out to them – the opening to the crawl space under the house.  I’ve scrunched down to see what I can see, but I’m too old and unbending to manage a thorough search.  What I need are some of you brave, agile cousins to scoot underneath and have a look around.  While you’re at it, you could be searching for other treasure, as well.  You never know what might show up under a 148-year-old house!

Fairy Eggs! Who knew?

Saturday, October 7th, 2017

Oysterville Bounty! February 2014

Had you asked me a week or so ago, I’d have been relatively confident that I knew a lot about eggs.  Hen’s eggs, that is.  After all, we’ve had chickens for years and years.  Ever since we were adopted by a pair of absolutely gorgeous young roosters that were so young we thought they were hens, at least for a while!  Then they began crowing and strutting their stuff and our ignorance became obvious.  That was in 2008 and we’ve come a long way in the chicken and egg department since then.

But, even back in 2008 when we bought our first little peeps, we knew that hens lay eggs with or without roosters in the mix. (Contrary to what you might think, not everyone does know that!)  What we learned about egg-laying is that it begins when hens get to be about six months old and will continue, for most breeds, for six or seven years. Hens have been known to lay for as long as seventeen years but not ‘productively’ – just now and then instead at the four-or-five-a-week rate.

Still Life – “Teaspoon with Eggs in Two Sizes”

We also knew that eggs come in a variety of colors, depending upon the chicken breed, and also with some variation in size (within reason.) and, of course, we knew that the shell color does not affect the quality, nutritional value, or taste of the eggs.  We didn’t know (but have learned) that some breeds of chickens lay more double-yolked eggs than others but, for the most part, this tendency has been bred out of modern chickens by poultry farmers who have been seeking ‘uniformity of product’ – no doubt for their economic ‘bottom line.’

Well… it’s not that we thought we knew it all… but still it came as a great surprise when, night before last, the only egg is in the nest box was about the size of a large marble – what we would have called a ‘jumbo shooter’ when I was a kid.  At first, I wasn’t sure it even was an egg, though I couldn’t imagine what else it could be.  It was the right color – brown, in this case – but with a rough exterior and more round than egg-shaped.  And heavy for its size!

When I brought it in and presented it to Farmer Nyel, he too was skeptical.  “But what else could it be?” he also asked and pinched it enough to crack the shell.  Empty!  And very, very weird.  Of course, I went online and discovered that these sorts of eggs do happen occasionally.  “Fairy Eggs” they are called!  And this is what I read on fresheggsdaily.com:

Nyel Holds The Fairy Egg

… also called “wind”, “witch”, “cock” or the fairly crass “fart” eggs, are merely a glitch in the laying process that is fairly common in backyard flocks. Smaller than regular eggs, usually rounder and containing no yolk, these eggs generally occur either very early in a hen’s productive life before her hormones and reproductive cycle are fully formed and working properly – or sometimes very late in a hen’s laying life as her hormone production is winding down. They can also be the result of stress or a disruption of routine.

So, there you have it!  Though… all our girls are two to four years old and should be in prime laying fettle.  As we so often comment… you never can tell with chickens.

Terms of Settlement

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

Apparently, the strike is over.  The four girls never did make their demands clear but their refusal to lay eggs for most of the summer – usually their most productive season – made it abundantly clear that they were not happy with their working conditions.  As of day before yesterday, though, they are back to laying.  Three eggs on Sunday! One egg yesterday!  After three months with only one or two eggs altogether.  Yay!

Not only was there a work slow-down.  There seemed to be a bit of a hunger strike, as well.  They weren’t eating very much and they weren’t particularly interested in their scratch – usually a treat that they’ll follow us back to the house for if we forget.  Not this summer, though!

It didn’t seem to matter whether they were locked up in their chicken run or allowed out in the garden to free-range.  No eggs.  Nor did it make a difference who was tending to them – Nyel or me or neighbor Carol.  No eggs.  Granted, they couldn’t count on which of us it would be.  It all depended on how Nyel felt or if he was in the hospital.  We tried to keep those girls informed, but they have a short attention span.

So… what’s different now we wonder.  The weather, perhaps?  But it doesn’t seem that different from many other three or four day stretches this summer.  Our being home? It’s been only four days straight, so we don’t think that’s it.  A bit more free-ranging?  Nyel has been letting them out every day to investigate the garden, but that’s not unusual either.  What is usual — the girls aren’t forthcoming about their change of heart.

I think it’s a combination of my scolding and Nyel’ Farmer s gentle concern.  He and I take turns doing chicken duty – he in the morning, always checking food, water, coop conditions, asking if there is anything bothering them.  In the in the evening it’s me, checking the nest boxes and doing a bit of scolding when they are empty.  I hasten to say, though, that I heaped praise on all the ladies for their recent increased output.

Whatever they’ve been holding out for, I’m glad they feel that they can now go back to work.  We are looking forward to having our first potato salad of summer – before it’s too late!  I couldn’t face the possibility of having to use store-bought eggs!  Which I did mention to the girls a few days back.  So… maybe threats work.  You never can tell with chickens…

Off the Beaten Path to Totality

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

Eclipse Day at Our House – By Tucker

I can’t imagine that Oysterville was a destination for anyone intent on seeing the eclipse the other day.  But, even though we were closer to the Path of Totality here in Portland (99% of the total, we were told), we would gladly have stayed home given the choice.

Chickens During Eclipse – By Tucker

We were especially interested in seeing how the chickens would react, should the sky darken for a minute or two.  And, we had no desire to fight the traffic and see the show up-close-and-personal; we thought we’d get better views on television.

Eclipse at Our House – By Tucker

As it turned out, though… it was Tucker to the rescue!  He and Carol spent the eclipse right at our house and sent us photographs of the whole shebang!

Carol Watches the Eclipse – By Tucker

I share them here on my blog so readers can see what we all missed.  Thanks, Tucker!  We KNEW it would be a better event in Oysterville than anywhere else, no matter how far away from that Path of Totality!

Red Herrings and Midnight Marauders

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Toes Up

It started out a bad day for Nyel and it only got worse.  First, he didn’t feel at all well and when I offered to do the chicken duty, he readily agreed.  A bad omen in itself, I later decided.  When I arrived at the coop, all seemed well.  The four old girls were hanging out together, much as always.  But where were the new girls?

And then I saw one of them, toes up with her neck broken and bloody.  She was over against the hog wire fence and, oddly, there was quite a display of feathers above her, stuck to the wire and spread on the ground outside.

Guilt Free

“You killed her! I shouted at the Alpha Hen.  “Shame on you!  And what have you done with her sister?”  All four girls, Alpha Hen included, looked at me blankly – not with their usual interest in the scratch I was carrying, but not acting guilty or even weird about the chicken corpse only a few feet away.

I knew my rant at them was ridiculous and I knew my instinct to get Nyel was crazy.  I did both anyway.  Nyel managed to get down to the coop on his rider mower – walking that distance has become impossible.  I carried a bag and a shovel.  But before we did anything else, Nyel looked the situation over very carefully.  “I don’t think the hen did this,” he said.  I think it was a raccoon.  And he pointed out the small bits of flesh and the many feathers outside the coop fence.

I felt like I was in Chicken Pathology 101 and the forensics specialist was doing an on-site demonstration.  It didn’t take much to convince me that he was right.  We had looked high and low and in every possible cranny for the second new chicken.  She was gone.  “I think someone pulled her bit by bit through the hog wire,” he said.  And we both knew that Rocky Raccoon is totally capable of such a nasty deed.

“I’m so sorry, Big Red,” I said to the Alpha Hen.  “I should have given you the benefit of the doubt.  It’s just that you have a bad track record with respect to newbie girls. This time, you became a bit of a red herring I’m afraid.”

And, of course, there is always hindsight. We should have gone down to the coop after dark last night and physically carried those new girls into the coop, put them on the roost with the other girls, and locked them all in.  Instead, we figured they’d be okay.  We thought the old girls had accepted (or at least were tolerating) them.  And we were right as far as that was concerned.  But we were too complacent.  It’s been several years since Rocky Raccoon and his Band of Midnight Marauders have been around.  We had forgotten all about that possibility.

As I said, it was a bad day all the way around.

Two New Girls in the Coop!

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

Farmer Nyel with Two Girls in a Box

Yesterday, Nyel picked up two young pullets, all feathered out and ready to join our other ladies in the coop.  Almost ready, that is.  We learned some time back (and by bitter experience) that adding new chickens to an established flock is risky business.

On that occasion, one of our ‘old’ ladies – a Wyandotte and the alpha hen, apparently – viciously attacked a new girl.  The only other hens at that time were two old Red Stars who stood by and  maintained a neutral position. Farmer Nyel immediately separated the two new girls – Russian Orloffs – for several weeks, locating them so that everyone could see-bu- not-touch one another. Even so, the day after they were finally allowed them to cohabitate, we found one of the new girls toes up – pecked or stressed to death (it was hard to tell) apparently by you-know-who.

Bonding Time

Since the killer hen is still with us, deftly managing her three coop companions and continuing to be our best layer, Nyel is taking no chances with the new girls.  He spent most of Wednesday upgrading the coop-within-the-coop for his new arrivals.  It provides a small henhouse, suitable for eating and sleeping plus a chicken-wire enclosure – the exercise yard – through which the old ladies and new girls can get acquainted.  And make friends, we hope.

The new girls are Dominques and will provide yet another opportunity for international accord within the coop.  According to The Livestock Conservancy: The Dominique chicken is recognized as America’s first chicken breed. The exact origin of the breed is unknown, although their initial creation may have involved European chicken breeds and later in its refinement, some Asian varieties. The name of “Dominique” may have come from birds that were imported from the French colony of Saint-Domingue (today known as Haiti) and which are thought to have been used as part of the development of the Dominique breed.

In Temporary Isolation

Like all matters involving internationalism, a great deal depends upon leadership.  But, perhaps the Wyandotte has mellowed during the recent time of stalemate. Maybe she will welcome the new girls with open wings.  Meanwhile, though, we wait warily – an all too familiar feeling these days it seems?

Is the work slow-down over?

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Seven Eggs in Two Days!

Day before yesterday was a red-letter day at the coop.  Four eggs!  And all in the same nest box.  That’s one hundred percent productivity and might be the first time ever than every hen has laid an egg in the same twenty-four-hour period.  Maybe that little ditty I sang them about the chicken who wouldn’t lay an egg finally produced results!

Even more surprising was to find three more eggs yesterday! These in the south nest box.  There was even one from the newest working girl.  Her eggs are a lighter color and, more telling, are still on the smallish size.  According to the online Manitoba Agriculture site, “All hens start egg production laying Pee Wee or Small eggs and gradually increase to a mature egg grade size of Medium, Large or bigger. In modern breeds, most hens are laying Large, Extra Large or Jumbo eggs by 40 weeks of age.”

Russian Orloff

I think our newest (and youngest) layer, a Russian Orloff, is about thirty-five weeks old so she has time yet to catch up (egg size-wise, that is) to her older coopmates.  Russian Orloffs are known for being cold-hardy and are said to often lay straight through the winter.  So maybe her production is now beginning in earnest.  Up until these last few days, she has only produced a few eggs and those on an irregular basis.  We have been cutting her a lot of slack because she’s young.  And because it’s so dark out these days.

Generally, laying hens require 14 to 16 hours of light a day for good egg production.  That’s why commercial farmers use artificial light to augment the shorter daylight hours in winter.  Our backyard chickens have to just muddle through.  We are happy let nature take its course.  We clap and talk (and sing!) our thanks when they surprise us with unexpected bounty.  Discovering what’s in the nest boxes is one of the delights of chicken farming!

Morning Bounty

And, about those nest boxes…  The rule of thumb among the experts is one nest box for every three to five laying hens.  We have three nest boxes and four hens.  That they choose to all lay in the same box now and again is another one of life’s little mysteries.  As I so often remark… it’s hard to second-guess chickens!

A Song for Our Girls

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

On Our Porch in the Sunshine – Practically Tropical

It’s not unusual for me to talk to our ‘girls’.  I think all chicken owners must converse with their flocks.  How could they not?  Especially with the hens.  They cluck and clack about whatever is going on – (garrulous old ladies aren’t called “old hens” for nothing) – and they even cock their heads and cast their beady eyes on me when I respond.  Not great listeners, I’d say… but average.

It’s not often, though, that I sing to our chickens.  But, today I did.  It was 26° down at the coop when I went to let them out of their run for a day of free-ranging.   “Feels like 20° said The Weather Channel.  “Uncomfortably Cold” said Mike Challis’ Long Beach Weather page.  So, along with their food and scratch, I carried a watering can of hot water to thaw out the ice in their drinking container.  And that’s what prompted the song I sang to them.

They came out of their coop in full cluck – a commentary on the cold weather, no doubt, but also the assurance that they were all fine.  After all, they are double-insulated.  Farmer Nyel insulated their coop when he built it and, of course, they are dressed for all contingencies in their usual down undergarments and their feathered frocks.

After I told them that The Boss is on the mend and will be seeing them before long, they gathered ‘round to watch me pouring that steaming water over the ice chunks in their drinking container – curious and watchful.  That’s when I sang to them:

I had a little chicken
And she wouldn’t lay an egg,
So I poured hot water
Up and down her leg.
Well, the little chicken hollered
And the little chicken prayed
And the little chicken laid a hard-boiled egg!

Hot Water To The Rescue!

As I headed back to the house, I reassured them that the song was just for fun – we really don’t expect any eggs, hard boiled or otherwise, at this time of year.  I’m not sure they believed me.  They followed me all the way back to the house and the Alpha hen came right up onto the porch, clucking and carrying on.  Maybe they liked my singing and wanted more.  It’s hard to know with chickens.

Clucking All The Way

Shy, Hopeful and Balding

Friday, October 14th, 2016
Shy

Shy

It’s been quite a while since I’ve stepped in to do the coop duties for Farmer Nyel.  The girls are well-used to our chicken-sitter neighbors now, but I think they are disappointed that it’s me and not the Tall Guy that is tending their needs right now.  I’ve assured them that it won’t be long before he’s their go-to guy once more, but they are a bit leery.

Our newest young lady is just plain shy.  She has yet to really ‘fit in’ with the other three – stays within sight of them but keeps her distance a bit when they are all free-ranging in the yard. However,  when I approach, she’s into the bushes like a shot.  The rhododendrons provide good cover and she hunkers down well out of my reach and well-camouflaged (or so she thinks.)

Gathered for brooding?

Gathered for brooding?

One of the older girls (a Red Star) has her own method of protest going on.  She has taken to laying her eggs way off in a corner of the broody pen – a corner we can’t reach except maybe with great patience and an extended golf club.  Night before last when I went to tuck everybody in, she was sitting on those eggs as content as can be.  I tried to talk to her a little – a bit of sex education.  You know… along the lines of: without a rooster in the flock, your eggs won’t ever hatch…  But she was having none of it.  Hopeful to the max.

The other Red Star has apparently decided that this is a good time to molt.  Never mind that the days are getting colder and wetter – she’s getting rid of feathers right and left.  Actually, according to the chicken experts, she’s right on time molting-wise.  Typically, the first adult molt among chickens is when they are about 18 months old and usually occurs in the fall as the days grow shorter.  The curious part, probably, is that her sister is not (yet) molting, but has decided to go broody, instead.  Either way, they’ve both found a successful way to shut down egg production for the time being.

Molting

Molting

Meanwhile, all four girls cluck and chortle when they hear me coming to un-batten the hatches and let them out for the day.  Maybe I only imagine that they are disappointed to find it’s me coming with water and food, but I don’t think so.  I share their angst!  I’m eager for Farmer Nyel to be back to his normal duties, too!

Chickens on the Back Burner

Saturday, August 6th, 2016

 

Gardening Companions - In Happier Times

Gardening Companions – In Happier Times

I haven’t had much to do with the girls this summer.  I guess I’m what might be called a “Fair Weather Chicken Tender” although the weather has little to do with the current situation.  It all began with “Scratch, Scoot, and Scurry.”  Sort of like “Stop, Drop, and Roll” of the fowl variety.

First, let me say that, in our almost ten years of chicken nurturing and egg gathering, we have never had such a group of renegades as these.  When out in our garden, free-ranging as we call it, they inevitably go into the flower beds (the best flower beds) scratch around destructively until they dig a space large enough to belly under the picket fence, and off they go.  They make a bee-line for Carol and Tucker’s where they visit for a while, look for remnants of the morning’s wild birdseed and then toddle home.

Heading on Out!

In March – Heading on Out!

When we ‘lost’ one of the girls that way to a neighbor’s dog (who was momentarily off-leash), we decided they needed to be kept in their chicken-run for a while.  Then, down to four chickens, we purchased two young pullets.  Inexplicably, one of our older girls took an immediate dislike to those teenagers and managed to kill one of them almost immediately.  Talk about that pecking order!! We returned the survivor to our chicken-supplier to let her grow to adulthood and, just last week, brought her home again.

Secure Haven

Secure Haven

Farmer Nyel had readied a separate cage for her.  It’s in the run where she can get acquainted with the old girls from a protected position.  But, don’t you know, that Meanie Hen is already on the warpath trying (but failing) to attack this newbie.  It’s been two weeks now, but Mrs. Meanie is unrelenting.  Nyel wants to exchange their places.  I want to stew the bully-girl.

And besides, before I could get my flower beds back in order from the “Scratch, Scoot, and Scurry” drill, the moles took over and I’ve given up.  Might as well let the girls free-range again and duke it out among themselves.  Wouldn’t you think with an acre of garden, we could all live in harmony?  But probably not.  It seems to be the way of the world these days.  I despair.