Posts Tagged ‘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…


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!



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.

In A Garden Full of Reds and Lilacs

Friday, May 8th, 2020

Big Red Rhodie

The Reds are out in all their glory — the Jean Maries along the west and east fences, the huge no-name Red in front of the chicken coop and the smaller no-name Red near the cannon.  And, of course, Little Red Hen and Nyel-Who-Once-Was-A-Redhead, too.

It really is the BEST time of year in our garden.  Even though the reds dominate, there are other blossoms everywhere.  The lilacs by our east porch and over by the gazebo are in their glory.  Other rhodies — Mrs. G. W. Leak and those huge bushes with the purple blossoms along the north fence — are more glorious than ever.  It’s as if they are ssying, “We love to have you home!  Keep sheltering and stay safe with us!”

Nyel and Little Red Hen

For her part, Little Red Hen comes running whenever either of us is in the garden.  She loves to “help” me, scratching and pecking where I’ve been weeding to make room for nasturtium seeds.  I’ve told her that once I plant them, she’ll have to stay away, but she just gives me that cocky one-eyed look and I know I’ll have to confine her to the coop if I want those seeds to have a chance.

Lilacs In Profusion

She’s fickle, though, and easily distracted.  As soon as Nyel shows up, she abandons me and the tenuous promise of wriggly earthworms, much more interested in the here and now of dried meal worms in the Farmer’s hand.  Little Red is  about three now, the oldest of our three hens.  I wonder if she remembers Farmer Nyel from the days before his wheelchair and if that’s why she’s the friendliest of the girls.

All-in-all, we count our blessings during this 2020 Spring.  There is beauty wherever we look in the garden and entertainment, too!  Who could ask for more?

The Stalwart Three

Sunday, March 22nd, 2020

If there were chicken police, they would no doubt arrest me for stupidity or inattentiveness or something of the sort.  Fortunately, I don’t think the girls have tried reporting me yet.  I’ve do make every effort to keep them informed about my plans and good intentions for them, and I think they (except for Slutvana) are trying to understand.  As I often say, it’s hard to tell with chickens.

To recap recent traumas in the coop:  within the last month, we have “lost” both the Big Red Rooster and the Big Red Hen.  Their absences occurred about two weeks apart — first the rooster, then the hen.  Both, perhaps, due to wanderlust.

Though our garden is completely fenced, all the chickens we’ve ever had (since those first two roosters arrived unannounced in 2008 and stayed for a year or so) — all of them have found ways to get out and explore the world beyond.  Some squeeze through, some dig under, some fly over.  One way or another, chicken curiosity will out.  The expression really should be, “curiosity killed the chicken.”

So, now we are down to three hens, all good layers.  But, we also have a rat.  We’ve not yet met face-to-face, but he leaves his calling cards (many of them) in the food trough, which he (or maybe they) are sharing with the chickens.  The trouble is, I fear the chickens don’t discriminate between rat droppings and food pellets when they are eating.  It’s not that they gobble.  They simply peck-peck-peck.  Relentlessly.  And without appearing to look at their targets.

Obviously, the usual kinds of rat traps won’t work unless my intent is to maime a chicken.  So we got a special one — pet safe! — that is supposed to be fool proof.  Apparently our Mr. Rat is no fool.  So… in desperation, I closed the girls out of the coop yesterday and set up glue traps (in addition to the “fool proof” rat trap) in the coop.  Meanwhile, I’ve opened the broody pen at the end of the run so the girls have an alternate place to eat and sleep.

They, of course, are having no part of “alternate.”  They disappeared last night at bedtime and I held my breath until morning light.  Back they came, looking perky and asking for treats.  I’m working on an alternate kiss-and-lie-down plan for tonight’s sleeping arrangements.

It’s not easy being a chicken farmer — even a substitute one!

Is confinement to quarters in order?

Monday, March 16th, 2020

So now we are down to two.  Snowhite and Slutvana.  Big Red and the Little Red Hen have disappeared.  I hope they have simply eloped, but they didn’t leave a note.  Nyel has thought for a long time now — well, for a week which is quite a while in chicken time — that they are a couple.

Never mind that Big Red has continued to have his way with the other girls.  LRH doesn’t seem to mind such fowl behavior.  In fact, she often seems quite relieved that she isn’t getting the full thrust (ahem!) of his ardor.  But, the two of them do wander off together now and then and both seem quite skilled at getting under or over our garden fence.

They’ve been gone since last night.  I have to confess that I got involved in an episode of “The Crown” and it was full dark when I went out to lock up the coop.  I lit my way by flashlight and, before locking the outer gate, I inspected the inside of the coop.  Only Slutvana and Snowhite were there…


As I was writing this, there was a tap at the east door and… there was the Little Red Hen, looking distressed but, otherwise, unruffled.  I went right out with grapes and scratch, let the other two out of the coop, and called endlessly for the rooster.  No luck.

LRH ignored the morning treat and went right into the coop and directly into a nest box.  Maybe she was preparing to lay an egg.  Or maybe she was in an “I vant to be alone” frame of mind.  Or maybe she’s hoping Big Red will show up and she wants to be home to greet him.

So… perhaps we are down to just three girls again.  Or perhaps not.  It sometimes takes a while to know with chickens.

She’s one high maintenance chick!

Sunday, March 8th, 2020

In the beginning…

Snowhite has required extra attention since she was all fluff and no feathers!  First, she annoyed one of her fellow-hatchlings when they were just days old and he pecked at her head until she was bald, bloody, and was exposing her skull.  We immediately put her in isolation, Farmer Nyel became Doctor Nyel and his TLC included medicine (I think it was neosporin) and a little hard hat to protect her from additional head trauma.

Whether or not she sustained brain injury at that early age, we aren’t sure.  But, one way or another, she’s always been different,  For one thing, she’s a loner — and who wouldn’t be under the circumstances?  And she was the only one in the flock who lost almost all her feathers due to an infestation of mites.  (Dr. Nyel to the rescue again — plus help from our friend Fred and yours truly.  Definitely a high maintenance kinda gal.)


It’s also Snowhite who makes demands about water and food.  She lets me know in no uncertain terms if the water trough needs refilling or if she thinks the pellets in the food trough are getting low.  She, too, is the one who requires extra  oyster shell calcium so her eggs will not be too fragile to handle without breaking.

As if all that weren’t enough, last night she decided to play hide and seek right at bedtime.  It was not quite dark when I went out to close up the coop.  Everyone was on the roost and well settled for the night — everyone, that is, except Snowhite.  She was nowhere to be found — not in the coop, under the coop, in the run or lurking nearby.  My inclination was to call “Olly Olly Oxen Free!” but I wasn’t sure she knew the rules of the game..

Snowhite and Slutvana – Temporary Togetherness

I left the gate to the run open and returned to the house calling “Here chick chick chick!” as I went.  Not loud enough that the others would waken and come outside.  Then I’d really have a circus on my hands!  I gave it twenty minutes — long enough that only the almost full-moon lit my way back to the coop.  When I shone my flashlight onto the roost… there she was, the minx!  On the roost, but facing backwards so all I could see was her fluffy, feathery butt.  I’m sure it was a statement of some kind…  silly, snarky Snowhite!

Chicken Scratch and Loners In The Coop

Monday, February 3rd, 2020


I love sociograms.  When I was teaching, I found them a wonderful tool for learning how kids were (or were not) relating to one another.  Sometimes, those interactions were obvious but, once in a while, it helped to have a bit more insight.

They worked this way:  Each child and I would have “a secret.”  I’d pass out small pieces of paper — one per student.  Each would write his/her name on one side in red crayon, turn it over and write the name of who they would most like to sit by in green crayon.  Sometimes, if I needed more information, I’d ask them to also write, perhaps in a third color, the name of the person they’d least like to sit next to.  And, “Sh!  Don’t tell!”

2nd Grade, Southgate School, Hayward, CA – 1962

Then I’d take all those papers home and draw a sociogram — each child’s name in a circle with a green arrow pointing to their first choice (and, perhaps, a different colored arrow to their “least” choice.  Instantly, I had a picture of who was most “popular” and who was least liked,  of how much interaction there was between girls and boys, and of who the loners were (if any).  I could act on that information (or not) as I planned group work and team activities — hopefully helping kids expand their social horizons along the way.

I’ve been thinking about those sociograms as I observe our chickens.  All three Rhode Island Reds — the rooster and the two hens — usually hang out together, even though one of the hens is oldest by two years.  The Russian Orloff (Slutvana) sometimes stays near the Reds, especially when it’s snack time.  But she stays on the periphery.

The Loner

Snowhite, the little white hen, seems to be a true loner.  When I take treats out in the morning, she is the last to join in the grazing and usually snatches a large morsel and runs into the cypress “grove” (can one huge tree be a grove?) with it.  She eats quickly and repeats the process — never getting her share, but obviously preferring fewer treats to associating with the others.

I wish I knew how each of those chickens felt about the others.  Is Snowhite’s behavior one-sided or have the others made her life miserable so she’s avoiding them as much as possible?  Who would she really like to sit next to?  Who would secretly like to sit next to her?

The Three Reds

Last night when I went to say “good night,”  the three Reds were on the roost on one side of the coop. On the opposite wall, the Russian and the White hen were settled into the north and south nest boxes with an empty nest box in between.  The Reds were totally isolated from the others and, though they could see those on the opposite side of the coop, there was no chance of interaction.

Would that I could pass out paper and do a sociogram!  If only I could read chicken scratch, it might just be helpful.