Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

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.

But… does that apply to chickens?

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

“Joy of Life” by Ni  Mao 

“There is a fine line between a genius and an idiot…” begins a quote by Ni Mao,  (or sometimes written Mao Ni) who is a Chinese author of xianxia novels.  I am totally unfamiliar with that genre or with author Ni Mao (or Mao Ni, as the case may be) either, but I really like the sentiment.  Especially when it comes to chickens.

Specifically, I’m talking about Snowhite here.  You may remember that she is the chicken who was pecked almost to death by her chick-mate when they were still hatchlings living under a heat lamp in our back forty.  For whatever reason, a somewhat older black chick — a bit bigger but still just a ball of fluff — took an aversion to Snowhite and pecked the top of her head down to the bone.  (Black Bart turned out to be a rooster that had to be re-homed with the help of the Auction Barn.) Dr. Farmer Nyel doctored Snowhite’s bloody skull, fashioned a little protective neosporine-lined helmet for her, and separated her from her nest mates.

She’s always been a bit different; I’m pretty sure she’s brain damaged.  Her eggs aren’t ever quite egg shaped and no matter how much calcium she gets, their shells tend to be fragile.  Too, she’s the one who got mites and is still half naked as a result.  She’s somewhat of an  isolate — not because the others don’t like her, but more because she keeps a fair distance from them most of the time.  (An actual no-brainer if you ask me!)


Lately, she hasn’t been going to roost with everyone else.  She hangs out by the coop door and when I come down to close everyone in for the night, she hops right out to the water trough for a drink of water.  Every night.  It’s weird.    And every night I explain to her that it’s bedtime, not an optimum time for getting drinks of water  (although, come to think of it, I remember when I was four or five, calling to my parents that I wanted a drink of water — which I didn’t. I just wanted to prolong the bedtime routine.)

This morning I thought it might be time to add to the water trough and, in so doing, found that the last time I’d done my water duty, I had neglected to return the safety cap to its resting place after I was finished.  Consequently, no water was getting from the tank to the trough.  Thank goodness it’s been raining.

Snowhite and Slutvana – Temporary Detente

It’s patently obvious that Snowhite has been trying to tell me about the problem for five or six days now.  Why else would she stay up until after roosting time and deliberately go over to the water trough each evening?  Here I’d been thinking “What an idiot!” when all along she’d been trying to show me that there was a disaster pending if the rains stopped.  I apologized profusely.  Who’s the idiot here, anyway?

Oh… and the last part of the quote is “…and that line is possibility.”  In this case, the possibility is that Snowhite is far smarter than I’ve been giving her credit for!  Way to go, Snowhite!

The Wrangler, The Whisperer, and Snowhite

Sunday, January 5th, 2020

Vicki’s Portrait of Fred, 2016

If you know Fred Carter, you probably know him as a singer/songwriter or as a golfer or as Vicki’s husband or as President of the Senior Center in Ocean Park.  Mostly, you’d know him as an extraordinarily nice guy.  But… did you know he’s also an accomplished chicken wrangler?  Last night he put his wrangling talents to use to help out our little white hen, Snowhite.

If you’ve been following the life and times of Farmer Nyel’s Backyard Flock, you may know that Snowhite appears to be suffering from mites.  She, also, is faster than the speedy Warner Bros. Road Runner of “beep beep” fame and, though several of us have tried to catch her, she has led us a merry chase through hedges, over fences, into trees, and has successfully eluded all attempts to capture her for a bit of doctoring.

Farmer Nyel, Chicken Whisperer

“Wait until dark and get her off the roost,” was the advice all the chicken experts gave me.  Easy for them to say.  Hard for a short octogenarian to manage.  So last night about dusk-thirty, Fred came to the rescue.  “Okay!  Let’s go!” he said.  I grabbed a cardboard box and off we went.  “I was down there a few minutes ago to lock them in for the night,” I told Fred.  “She’s on the roost but I’m not sure how close she is to the door.”

“Well, we’ll find out, won’t we?” And with that, he opened the back door, reached into the coop, grabbed Snowhite by the legs and quick-as-a-cluck (actually LOTS of clucking — in fact, you’ve never heard such a squabble!) she was in the box, the top was closed and we were carrying her back to the house!

She spent the night secured in that carton in our heated back-forty.  This morning an hour or so before first light, Farmer Nyel and I went into the garage armed with a can of mite-dusting-medicine and doctored her up.  She didn’t like it a bit, but seemed resigned.  Not much squawking or struggling.  Just a lot of dirty looks directed mostly at me!  Nyel with his soothing voice and gentle (yet firm) touch is definitely a Chicken Whisperer.

The dusting was done in no time and I returned her to the coop before the rest of the flock was even stirring.  Only the rooster seemed to notice and he gave a few thank-you-doodle-dos before settling back down.   I hurried back to the house through the rain humming “Dusting in the Dark” (to the tune of that other one, or course…)

As today goes…

Wednesday, January 1st, 2020

Chef Nyel at Work

As January 1st goes, so goes the year… or so I’ve been told.  It’s not nine o’clock (ayem) yet but so far, so good — mostly.  Early morning chores have been completed, breakfast consumed, chickens fed and let into the garden for the day.  Nyel is busy cooking up a storm and I am already at my desk hoping to resume work on one or the other of two books-in-progress.  There’s just one little problem…

Snowhite seems to have a bad case of mites — not an insurmountable problem for most chicken farmers.  She needs to be treated with “Garden, Pets, and Livestock” dust which first entails catching her.  Easier said than done.  She is mighty skittish even though she hangs back from the others and appears to be asking for help.

“Hiding” Snowhite

The easiest way to catch her, of course, is to take her off her perch at night when she is less alert and less mobile.  Unfortunately, ours in not a walk-in coop and, although a taller person with longer arms (that would be Farmer Nyel) could pretty easily accomplish the capture, I don’t think I can reach her.  Not even from the big back door when she might be on the near end of the roost.

She’s let me know in a number of ways that she wants help with her problem but, so far, she won’t let me get close enough to grab her.  I’ll give it one more shot tonight before I ask for the assistance of a long-armed friend.

It’s really not a coop duty that you’d wish on anyone else.  Plus what would that signify about how the new year will progress?  Chickens in charge?  Not exactly what the Backyard Famer (or wife) want to anticipate…


Curiosity in the Coop

Monday, December 30th, 2019

Big Red The Stalwart

I was pretty sure I couldn’t be completely clandestine about my mission at the coop this morning.  Even though I led the flock far out of sight-range when I gave them their morning treat, I was pretty sure they’d figure out that something was up.  It’s hard to keep secrets from chickens, especially with Big Red always alert to his rooster duties.

My “mission” was to ready the quarters adjacent to the coop and run — originally the broody pen and now isolation chamber for new flock members.  It is closed off from the main run by chicken wire and a gate.  It allows the old flock members to get used to new residents (and vice-versa) gradually, a ploy that usually helps avoid arguments (and sometimes fights to the death) when the co-mingling time arrives.  The most recent residents in “The Apartment” (as we choose to call it now) were Big Red, the rooster, and  his sister, Gladys.  Their integration with the three older residents went perfectly.

the Apartment

Now, I’m readying for the two Fagerland Ladies.  They are older than any of our current flock and are thinking about re-locating to Oysterville from Seaview.  I think it’s just a matter of their Boss/Farmer finding time to transfer them.  Farmer Nyel and I talked it over and decided that we’d not give them advance warning.  Not that they’d plot or plan, but we don’t want them to get overly excited with anticipation.

Snowhite The Curious

However, I do think Snowhite has an inkling.  She often does.  Like some people who are super-intuitive, Snowhite seems hyper-alert whenever coop routines differ at all.  During morning treats today, she hung back and, as soon as she saw me enter the run, she came over to join me.  “What’s up?” she clucked, as clear as clear can be.  I didn’t tell her a thing… but she’s hard to fool.


Confusion and Consternation in the Coop

Monday, November 11th, 2019

Beg Red Wanting Out Into The Garden

Yesterday, I opened the gate between the new chickens and the three old biddies. Not old in the age-sense, mind you.  Just in the proprietorial sense.  The co-mingling didn’t go perfectly but, on the other hand, no serious disagreements occurred.  Mostly, I think, because of the intimidation factor.

The three small hens were wary.  They approached the scratch that I threw out to all of them on tiptoes (tipclaws just sounds wrong) and scuttled off quickly when the big chickens let them know that they weren’t really invited to share.  I had brought out some meal worms for the new couple, following the example of their former farmer, and enticed them away from the scratch by some deft hand-feeding.  To be fair, I did offer some meal worms to the little (not in the sense of young; purely a size thing) ones,but they were having none of it.  Must be an acquired taste.

By the time I headed out the gate, Big Red had made his move toward each of the little ladies, but without success.  They scuttled out of his way with a considerable amount of clucking and scolding.  I’m sure I heard, “I’m just not that kind of girl.” And “I hardly know you, you dumbcluck!”

Little Red Hen All By herself

Interestingly, I’ve never seen Big Red approach his large lady friend with any amorous intent.  When I mentioned that to Farmer Nyel he looked at me with total amazement.  “That would be incestuous!” he said.  “She’s his sister!”  Sometimes I wonder about that man…

It is the big new hen who seems to be the most snarky one of the new, combined flock.  When Snowhite approached the water trough, Ms. Large Lady scolded and blocked her way.  This morning I noticed that Snowhite has retaliated and had taken up a position in the doorway of the coop, clucking and scolding and saying very clearly, “Mine!  All mine!  Keep out!”

It isn’t clear to me whether the new chickens have actually been allowed inside the coop at all yet.  They spent last night huddled in the little broody shed and, though they seem to be ruling the run, so to speak, I think the little hens are ruling the roost.

Having A Spa Day

Oh and did I say that our old Little Red Hen darted out the gate right along with me this morning?  No way would she be enticed back into the run.  I’m planning to do some lawn fertilizing today and don’t want the flock inadvertently sampling any of it so I’ve left them inside the run — all except for that recalcitrant Little Red.  Later, though, I spied her having a dust bath over by the north rhodies.  Leave it to her to turn her escape into a spa day!

When I worried about detente in the coop, Farmer Nyel soothed, “It’ll sort itself out.”  We can but hope.

So far so good. We can but hope.

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

Big Red — Still a Teenager

His wake-up call came right at first light.  Six-thirty.  An hour and a half late for us at this time of year but nice to know that the new rooster is on the job from day one.  His cock-a-doodle-do is yet a little uncertain in the middle, but he’s working on it.  Quite a bit.

Farmer Nyel and I had spent yesterday down at the coop getting ready for the new residents.  Nyel built the coop during the summer of 2008 and made a separate area a few years later to serve as a Broody House and Pen.  Right now I’m thinking of it as the Honeymoon Suite since it’s housing both the new rooster and his pullet lady friend.  Both have accepted their new quarters gracefully, although they hang out by the chicken-wire fencing that keeps them separate from our three older ladies.

Waiting for Morning Treats

For their part, Slutvana, Snow White, and the Little Red Hen have been quite curious about the newcomers.  Especially Snow White.  She appears to be rather aggressive in her “welcome” — going right up to the fence and clucking furiously.  I hadn’t thought so before, but she may well have become the alpha hen of the group once we took the last rooster to the Chehalis Poultry Auction in the spring.

Little Red is less forceful but also very interested.  We wondered if she would recognize the newcomers as relatives (or vice versa) but, so far, the fact that they are all Rhode Island Reds doesn’t seem to be a factor in the getting acquainted game.  Perhaps it is because the new girl is twice as large as she is and the rooster is even bigger still.  Could it be that Little Red doesn’t recognize that they are cousins?

As for Slutvana — she approached the fence, looked over the new couple and left for a day in the garden.  I could almost her her disdain.  She is, of course, the one that none of our previous boys could leave alone.  She definitely has that special something that makes her the most desirable girl in the coop and she appears to know it.  When Big Red (Nyel says that is his name) is finally allowed to co-mingle, we will see if Slutvana’s charms are holding.  If all goes well, we think the big co-mingling day will be next Monday.

The new Rhode Island Red hen

And as for me and Big Red.  So far so good.  He welcomed me into the Honeymoon Suite this morning and ate meal worms right out of my hand.  He was gentle and polite although he didn’t let his suite-mate have any.  Neither of us argued with him, but I was able to slip her a few goodies on my way out.

Thus far… a good beginning.