Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

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.”

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.

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.

Agoraphobic Ameraucana?

Monday, November 26th, 2018

Ameraucana In The Coop

In all the weeks that I have had full-time chicken duty (since Nyel’s fall the 3rd of October) I’ve never seen the Ameraucana outside the coop.  She doesn’t come out with the other chickens when I open the coop door in the mornings and, though I’m seldom down there during the day, when I have paid a visit, she’s still indoors.  She does not fraternize with the other chickens at all, as far as I can tell.

Farmer Nyel says she was “acting weird” even when he was still Chief Chicken CEO.  When Slutvana went broody (falsely, as it turned out) and wouldn’t leave the nest, the Ameraucana hung out nearby.  I thought she was being solicitous of her Russian Orloff friend – perhaps eager to play the role of auntie when the hatchlings arrived.

Checking Out Breakfast

So, even though Slutvana gave it all up as a bad job weeks ago, perhaps the Americauna has had some sort of mental upset and is sticking around inside – just in case.  Sometimes, she seems to spend all day in one of the nest boxes.  On other days she wanders around on the coop floor, pecking at the food tray and looking confused.  Both the Farmer and I are pretty sure she leaves the coop to have a drink now and then – the water ‘trough’ is outside and she doesn’t seem dehydrated, so it stands to reason.

I’m beginning to think that she might have agoraphobia – you know, in people it’s the fear of leaving the house. But I looked it up and find that the fear is really more complicated than that. Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that manifests as a fear of situations where escape could be difficult, or in which help would not be available if something bad were to happen.

Hesitating in Doorway

Actually, with those two randy roosters prancing around in the midst of the flock, I think the Ameraucana is showing good sense.  Perhaps it’s more an androphobic (fear of men) condition.  Or could it be alektorophobia — the fear of chickens?  I couldn”t find any phobia specific to roosters, much less any phobias that chickens, themselves, might have.  But now that I’ve thought her situation through, I think I’m a bit more sumpathetic

Probably she needs a chicken psychologist or, at the very least, the services of a chicken whisperer.  That, of course, would be Farmer Nyel.  Keep your fingers crossed that he will soon be able to resume his chicen duties.  That Ameraucana needs him!

Our Barking Rooster

Sunday, November 18th, 2018

Beautiful

We know that our resident ghost, Mrs. Crouch, is responsible for a lot of the mysterious happenings in this household.  She is definitely the one we blame for lost items – Nyel’s car keys and his wedding ring, most recently, and one of a pair of socks on a fairly regular basis.  She also moves items around.  When I put my cup of coffee in the microwave to warm it up and then found it hours later in the refrigerator… well, you know who got the credit for that trick!

But I think our current rooster mystery is beyond even Mrs. Crouch’s considerable abilities.  For one thing, I don’t think that she’s ever been outside the house.  Certainly not as far distant as the chicken coop.  It’s true that, at various times, people have complained to us (in a gentle sort of way) that they think Mrs. Crouch has been visiting at their house.  But I tend to think that is wishful thinking – perhaps a way to explain their own growing absent-mindedness which, thank heavens, has not become a problem yet in our own household.

Scary

But… back to the rooster.  It is the black alpha rooster, the larger of the two who are keeping the six ladies of the coop in line.  And, happy too, as far as we can tell.  That black rooster is the one that hates me.  Each day when I go out with food and water and treats, he marches up and down the inside of the run, giving me the evil eye.  I am always careful to keep that hog wire fence between us, you betcha.  He has come at me once or twice when we’ve both been free-ranging in the garden.  He’s fast and those spurs are sharp and scary.

But the other day when I let the flock out of the coop (from a safe distance away) and Mr. Alpha came over to the fence and gave me that one-eyed look, I was totally unprepared for him to bark at me.  But, bark he did.  “”Woof!” he said.  I was sure I was mistaken but, “Woof” he said again.  It went on for several minutes and probably for nine or ten woofs.  There was always a pause in between – never a woof-woof or a woof-woof-woof.  It was weird.  And a bit disconcerting.

Ferocious

At first, I thought that he had something caught in this throat.  Then I thought maybe his cock-a-doodle-doo was stuck and wondered briefly (very briefly) if I would have to apply some sort of fowl Heimlich maneuver.  But… when it came right down to it… no.  I wasn’t going there.  As I walked away, he crowed his usual textbook perfect cock-a-doodle-doo.  I can only conclude that he was just being extra ferocious that morning.

And, yes… I did look up “barking rooster” on the internet.  It happens more than you’d think!  Just another of those you-never-can-tell-with-chicken things.  I was relieved that Mrs. Crouch was not involved.

Lucy Locket should’ve been so lucky!

Thursday, November 8th, 2018

Another Three-Egg Morning

Being the wife of a somewhat impaired chicken farmer isn’t easy.  Right now, all coop duties fall to me since Nyel can’t put any weight on his left leg.  Besides the chickens missing him, there are other problems.  Like yesterday morning when I got up and put on my bathrobe…

The problem with coop duty at this time of year is that, no matter the weather, the grass is wet.  That entails boots and, for several years, there has been a boot crisis here at our house – as in my (extremely) old, comfy ones have sprung way too many leaks and I can’t find any in this new-age world that I can easily slip on and off when I’m wearing my usual blue jeans.

So… I’ve taken to doing the food and water run to the coop in boots and bathrobe so I can slip those boots onto (and off of) bare feet and legs.  Easy Peasy! The hem of my robe gets a little damp, but my next morning activity is to shower and get dressed so the bathrobe has essentially twenty-four hours to dry.  Over and out.  The bathrobe had the added advantage of having big, roomy pockets, and therein lies another problem.

A Pair of Pockets, 1700-1725, British Museum

Yesterday, just before dawn’s early light, I slipped into that warm, fleecy bathrobe and felt a rather familiar weight in my front right pocket.  Oh no!  An egg!  It all came back to me.  The morning before there had been four eggs waiting in the nest boxes.  I could carry three in one hand and, since my other hand held the water and food containers, I slipped the fourth egg into my pocket.  Apparently, that was the end of my thought processes about that particular egg.

Which made me think of Lucy and Kitty.  You may remember that “Lucy Locket lost her pocket, Kitty Fisher found it, Not a penny was there in it, Only ribbon round it.”  Well, at least these days it’s harder to lose your pocket, egg or no egg.  I read somewhere that, although men’s pockets began to appear in trousers and waistcoats as early as the 1600s, women’s pockets were separate items – more like a modern purse – and in the 17th and 18th centuries were typically attached to a ribbon tied around the waist and worn under the petticoats.

Embroidered Satin Pocket, 1725-1825, Germany

It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that dress patterns show pockets being sewn into the seams and not until the two World Wars when women began wearing trousers that pockets became part of everyday fashions for the female gender.  As you might expect, there is a lot of political palaver that goes with pockets and their sexist beginnings.  All I can say is, doing the chicken chores sure is easier these days than it would have been a few hundred years back.  And all because of that bathrobe pocket!

…maybe it’s a nationality thing.

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

Russian Orloff

Life has been a little less enthusiastic in the coop these past few days.  Slutvana gave up her brooding on Monday and left her eggs to go cold in the nest box.  The aunties have stopped hovering around expectantly and the roosters are…  Well, the roosters are just doing their usual randy bit for the good of the cause.  Presumably.

Farmer Nyel directed me to get rid of the five eggs lest they get broken and cause a big stink.  So far, I haven’t called Godfeather Erik to tell him that his work in creating the run for the chicklets was in vain – at least this time around.  Hopefully, there will be other opportunities for baby chicks.  And, hopefully, it will be the Ameraucana who goes broody.  Maybe she will be more reliable.

According to the BackYard Chickens website, hens go broody for inexplicable reasons – “this mood is determined by her own instincts, hormones, voices in her head, instructions beamed down from her Mother Ship.” (I just love that website.  They tell it exactly as it is, in my estimation.)

Ameraucana

I think, in this case though, it was a nationality thing.  Perhaps Slutvana (who is, after all, a Russian Orloff) got a little confused about her duties.  We are rapidly approaching November 6th and some sixth (ahem) sense must have tuned into her Russian compatriots’ attempts to fowl (ahem again) up our election process.  Deceitful, duplicitous Slutvana!  For shame!  You had us all counting chickens that weren’t ever going to hatch.

But we are onto her now.  In the future our surveillance will be ongoing and relentless… even though we know that you never can tell with chickens, no matter what their nationality!