Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

Hop to it! Easter’s on its way!

Monday, March 29th, 2021

Even the most recalcitrant chickens know that bunnies have nothing whatsoever to do with Easter.  Fluffy little chicks, yes.  Bunnies bearing baskets of colored eggs, definitely not.  And don’t ever bring up that discussion with Aracaunas or Americaunas or other “Easter Egger” chickens who lay those lovely blue and green and purplish eggs.    Talk about crossing their legs until further notice…

Right now, though, we have none of those colorful egg-layers.  In fact, for the past year or so we’ve wondered if our hens are over the hill, production-wise.  We have only three girls and all of them are approaching the slow-down age of three or four.  When they were producing, their eggs ranged in color from a warm beige to a dark brown.

So imagine our surprise these last few evenings when I’ve checked the nest boxes and have found, in the northern one, a light-almost-white egg — and getting lighter each day!  What the…?  My first thought was that one of those girls must be laying for the first time ever.  But after a lengthy discussion with Farmer Nyel and a review of past performance by each of the hens, we are pretty sure that’s not the case.  So the only conclusion to be drawn is that they are preparing the household for Easter.

Two out of three – suitable for dying?

Even chickens can figure out, evidently, that the lighter the egg, the more succesful the dying process will be.  We don’t pretend to know how they can adjust their internal spigots to a desired shell color, but that’s what one of those feathered ladies has done.  Apparently.

Unfortunately,  we have no little kids in residence so we aren’t planning on the dying-and-hiding ritual.  But please don’t tell the chickens.

When talking to chickens…

Tuesday, March 16th, 2021

Trying to explain Daylight Savings Time to chickens is a lot like getting them to fuggedabout the pecking order.  It ain’t gonna to happen.

Before the time changed, the girls were going to roost just when I was sitting down to dinner — 5:45ish.  It was still a half hour or so before twilight but no matter.  If I appeared any earlier, they wouldn’t go into the coop.  Much later and I had to use a flashlight and hope I wouldn’t smack into a deer.  Or worse.  So, I was always about ten minutes late for dinner.

Now that we’ve set the clocks forward, you’d think that I could have a lovely, leisurely meal and go do my kiss-and-goodnight duties about 6:45.  It should be perfect, right?  NOT!

“Did you explain it to them?” Nyel asked.

“Of course I did!” was my indignant reply.  Any woman who has taught her chickens that “Egg! Egg! Egg!” means “Get busy in that nest box tomorrow and start laying!” is obviously down with chicken-speak and has the Daylight Savings Concept covered.

So why do they just look at me with that one-sided-eye look and make me come back later no matter what time I arrive to tuck them in?  I’m here to tell you that chickens are very stubborn people.  And I’m beginning to think this property is Arizona and Nyel and I are the Navajos.

Who, exactly, are Slutvana’s relations?

Thursday, January 21st, 2021

Russian Orloff

Slutvana, our Russian Orloff, spent most of last summer and fall in a nest box — any one of the three we have.  She didn’t seem particular.  She wasn’t laying and she wasn’t broody.  Talk with her as I might, she wasn’t about to reveal the cause of her self-isolation from the rest of us.

But now that winter is upon us, she is suddenly out and about.  Her nest box days seem to be a thing of the past and, although she seldom collaborates with any of us, at least she is interacting with the garden and getting a little exercise.  She is definitely one-of-a-kind, chicken-wise.

That may be because the Russian Orloff is the only distinctly Russian breed of chicken to be found in America. Russian tradition credits Count Orloff – Alexey Grigoryevich Orlov (1737-1808) – with the importation and promotion of this breed of chicken. This is the same Count responsible for the Orlov horse breed, the famous Orlov Trotters. The Count is said to have imported the breed from Persia.

Or it may be that she is self-conscious about her looks.  Her small comb is almost non-existent and, in combination with her fat body, she is not the most attractive hen in the coop.  Plus her plethora of neck feathers makes her look like she has multiple (not just double) chins AND jowls which is not any more attractive in chickens than in people.

Orlov Trotter

On the other hand, Russian Orloffs are said to be “very cold hardy birds with their small combs and fat bodies.” A chicken’s comb, as you might know, actually helps it stay cool.  Unlike us, chickens can’t sweat.   To cool off, its blood goes into the comb and because the comb sticks up from the head, it says cooler than the rest of the chicken’s body. Blood circulating from the comb and the wattles helps the bird lose heat during hot weather.

So there you have it.  Slutvana is either really feeling frisky with the colder winter weather or she is out and about hoping for a glimpse of  her pseudo-cousins, the Orlov Trotters.  I don’t think there are any in Oysterville, but I haven’t wanted to discourage her quest.  Anything to get her out of the coop for a change!


As the first week of 2021 winds down…

Thursday, January 7th, 2021

The Bigger The Comb, The Cockier the Rooster

I gathered the girls together this morning for a little talk.  I was pretty sure they’d been lurking in the crawl space under the house yesterday — listening to the TV.  I was interested  in their take on happenings beyond the coop.

Of course, they don’t understand voting.  But they do get the pecking order and who’s in charge.  Right now, since there is no rooster in our little flock, Little Red Hen is the leader.  Next comes Clara.  Last is Slutvana.  When we had a rooster, it was a different situation.  He was in charge.  Period.

If a second rooster should enter the picture,  a lot depends upon the size of his comb — the bigger the better, apparently. Often, if there are two wannabes, they will fight to the death in order to be head honcho.  When our little flock has been so unlucky as to hatch out more than one guy,  we’ve  always managed to separate them by locking up the trouble-maker.  Then we re-home him and things settle down.  We are told that if there is a big flock and enough real estate, two roosters can divvy things up and there is some measure of détente. Neither our flock nor our yard has ever been that large.

In which fowl group does he fit?

So, when I asked this morning, the girls did a lot of cluck-clucking.  Were they saying that two cocks-of-the-walk won’t work — even if there is only one that’s official?  Were they pointing out that as long as there’s another who only “thinks” he’s the rightful leader, there will confusion and dissension?  Were they reminding me of how it works in  chickendom and and suggesting that it won’t be any different out in the greater coop of America?

“So what should happen next?” I asked.  Of course, there was no definite answer.  The entire situation was beyond their experience.  Three choices, they thought:  Lock up the old one and re-home him, or prepare for a lot of violence, or separate part of the flock and set up the wannabe doodle with them. (I believe we tried that once when Jefferson Davis was around; it didn’t go well.)

Or that’s what I think they said.  It’s always hard it tell with chickens.

Cluck! Cluck! Who’s there?

Tuesday, January 5th, 2021

Big Red Looking for Nyel — 2018

They come to the east door every afternoon about 1:00 or 1:30.  Up on the porch, up on the threshold.  Clucking and tapping with their beaks against the window panes.  “Farmer Nyel, Farmer Nyel, let us come in,” they say.

They hop up the steps to the porch — only on the days it’s not raining and just at the time I’m returning to my office after lunch in the kitchen.  The time varies a bit.  How do they know?  Are they hanging out in the rhododendrons or in the crawl space under the house?  Can they hear me coming?

Farmer Nyel and His Girls

Our routine doesn’t vary.  I open the door and tell them I’ll call Farmer Nyel.  I have to leave them alone for a moment but they wait patiently.  So far, they’ve not stepped onto the cranberry carpet and into the house.  After I’m assured that Nyel is on his way, I visit with them for a bit, telling them that it just takes a little time nowadays.  “And,” I tell them, “he’s bringing treats!”

When he gets there they greet him anxiously and stretch their necks up to reach the treats in his hand.  Usually it’s Little Red Hen and Clara who come.  Slutvana, the independent one — not so much.  Sometimes LRH hops right up onto Nyel’s lap or onto the arm of his wheelchair for better access to those mealworms.    Or to the cracked corn.  Or whatever the treat may be.

Ten minutes max and then that east wind gets right in among us.  Nyel gives a final toss of treats out toward the lawn and the girls take the hint.  I’ve never heard him say, “That’s all! by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin.”   Nor do they say, “See you tomorrow!”   We can but hope… You never can tell with chickens.

Mourning Ms. Clara, one of the new girls.

Monday, December 14th, 2020

Ms. Clara – July 2020

I had just finished writing my blog about chickens’ sleeping habits yesterday when I went to let the girls out of the coop and found Ms. Clara toes up just behind the roost.  I’ve heard about chickens that fall off the roost and break their necks, but Ms. Clara was intact — no broken anything and not a mark on her.  She was only three years old — about 30 in human years — and joined our flock last June along with her sister Ms. Ida-Mae.

 I read recently in an online article about the whys of chicken deaths. Some chickens die in accidents;  Chickens die from respiratory ailments. They mysteriously die around the age of three. They die from egg-laying screw-ups, like internal laying and prolapse. But, sometime, they skirt the dangers and make it into old age.  So I guess Ms. Clara falls into the “mysteriously” category.


Here’s the thing though:  I found her at the north end of the coop, her position indicating that she had been at that end of the roost, facing west.  Her right eye was open and her left eye was shut.  (If you read yesterday’s blog, you will know that chickens at either end of the roost sleep with their “outside eye” open, watching for predators and their “inside eye” closed so half their brain is getting needed sleep.   Clearly, Ms. Clara had been on sentry duty at the time of her death.  She deserves full honors for dying in the line of duty.

Ms. Ida-Mae and Slutvana Yesterday

I know that life is full of coincidences — some more noticeable than others.  I think the fact that I had written about how and why chickens sleep as they do just in time to make a determination about what Ms. Clara was doing when she died is definitely a big coincidence.  I don’t know if has any deeper synchronistic meaning as some of my Jungian friends might believe.  If anything, it’s a  coincidence that prompts me to learn more about chickens.

And I do think I should have a chat with our friend Dick whose photography business is called “one eye open.”  I wonder if he knows about what that means in the world of chickens.

How about going to bed with the chickens?

Sunday, December 13th, 2020

Three Sleeping Chicks, Side View, Close Up

According to recent studies, one out of three of us in the United States is sleep deprived.  We stay up too late, we get up too early, our sleep is not “quality” sleep.  For whatever reasons, too many of us are unable to function at maximum efficiency because we just don’t get enough zzzz’s.

Too bad we can’t take lessons from chickens with regard to sleep.  But even going to bed at dusk every night as chickens do (because they cannot see in the dark so what-the heck), would only solve part of the problem. And only some of the year and only for those of us who live farthest from the equator.  Chickens, of course have those geographic problems, too, but sleeping after dark is only one way they get their required seven or eight hours.  Or whatever is the chicken equivalent of the human optimum.

Varied Sleeping Styles

First of all, each of a chicken’s eyes is ‘attached’ to the opposite side of its brain and each can work independently of the other.  That means that a chicken can be awake and asleep at the same time!  If you are a careful chicken-watcher (and who among us is not?) you have probably observed hens resting with one eye open and one eye shut.  The side of the brain with the open eye is staying alert for predators.  The opposite side of the brain, attached to the closed eye, is experiencing slow-wave sleep.  That’s the deepest kind of sleep — the sort called “Stage 3 Non-REM sleep” in humans.  The kind  we should have two hours of each night, but seldom do.

When chickens go to roost for the night, they close both eyes but only if there are chickens on either side of them.  Those at the ends of the roost keep their outer eye open, always on the watch for predators.  (I’m not sure how that works in the dark, though.  Another one of those chicken mysteries.)

Little Red Hen Snoozing In The Sun

I’ve often wondered why the girls are in one order on the roost when I go to tuck them in at dusk and in a different order if I arrive at the coop before wake-up call in the morning.  Apparently, they shift their roosting order during the night so that everyone gets a chance, some time or other, to be in the middle with both eyes closed.  I’m not clear if, in a small flock like ours, the end girls also have an opportunity to switch so they can get some slow-down with the other side of their brain as well.

Chickens can, apparently, become sleep deprived from things such as fireworks, barking dogs, or predators.  However, they can quickly make up for lost sleep by entering slow-wave sleep, sometimes even forgoing their monocular sleep and closing both eyes to rest both sides of their brain at once.  However,  it takes chickens only a few seconds of slow-wave sleep to feel refreshed while humans may need hours of extra sleep to make up for burning their candles at both ends — or their fireworks, as the case may be.

It puts a whole new meaning on “going to bed with the chickens,” doncha think?


Game On! But which one? And when?

Saturday, November 21st, 2020

Tetherball for the Girls

No wind, No rain.  Cold, crisp, blue skies!  “Perfect for an outside tetherball tournament!” said Farmer Nyel,

So he sent me out to the chickens armed with a big fresh cabbage and I dutifully attached it to the tetherball rope in the chicken run.  The girls watched from afar, but didn’t seem inclined to choose up sides.  Not just yet, anyway.

I figured they might want to get their team strategies worked out in private, so I left them to it.  After all, it’s been a while since they’ve had a new tetherball installed.  The last one was sometime last summer and only lasted a day.  (And how’s that for a lot of lasts?)  On that occasion, there was only one tired cabbage leaf left hanging on the rope by the time I tucked those girls in for the night.

Playing Hide-and-Seek

Before I left, Clara (or was it IdaMae?) came over to check out the new development and I reminded her that for optimum fun, she might want to ask another girl to have a go with her.  She was non-committal so I left her to it.

I went back an hour or so later to see how it was going.  It wasn’t.  And there was no sign of the girls.  Even though I tried to lure them with the promise of treats, they were staying well hidden (except for their bare feet) back under the cypress tree.  I think they might be confusing Hide-and-Seek with Tetherball.  It’s hard to tell with chickens…

Are the girls learning yet another language?

Thursday, November 19th, 2020

Lake Little, 11-19-20

Now that the tide has decided to stay within its normal boundaries and not wander around while high, Lake Little has also resumed it’s usual winter size.  Granted, it fluctuates with the amount of rain we must all endure, but it seems to call out to the waterfowl, “Come on in!  It’s a good day for ducks.”  And come they do.

I wish my duck I.D.-ing skills were better.  All I can say about who is visiting right now is that there seem to be quite a variety and they are LOUD!  Loud and busy.  I imagine they are talking to one another, mostly, but I’ve noticed these last few mornings that our chickens seem to be trying to get into the conversation.

Lake Little 11-17-20

Truly!  Amidst their usual clucking and squawking, I’m hearing  the chickens chatter with sounds suspiciously like quacking.  Plus they seem to wait for responses from the gaggle on the lake.  I’m thinking that now that they’ve mastered a little human speak (they have been quite receptive to my constant demands for “Egg! Egg!”) they are branching out.

I should point out that the above reference should read “raft on the lake” rather than “gaggle on the lake.”  Geese gather in gaggles and I have not yet seen any geese on Lake Little this year.  Ducks gather in rafts, apparently, but when talking about how noisy they are, “gaggle” seems louder than “raft.”  Maybe I should just referto them as a “gabble  on  the lake”…

Little Red Hen Listening to the Ducks

But I digress.  I just wanted to let everyone know that the girls in the coop seem to be in favor of virtual learning.  At least, I’ve never seen them actually approach the pond for up close instruction in duck dialects.  Nevertheless, I think they are getting the hang of it.  You never can tell with chickens…

Chicken Tales of Pacific County

Friday, November 6th, 2020

Sou’wester, Spring 1966

When I become curious about a part of Pacific County history, my first go-to place for information is the Sou-wester — quarterly magazine of the Pacific County Historical Society.  This morning, after taking breakfast to our girls, I got to wondering about what their ancestors might have been up to.  And so, I did a little searching.

From the very first Souwester in Spring 1966:
Tideland Chickens
Rev. Wolfe of the Raymond Methodist Church has solved the problem of raising chickens on the tidelands. He has just completed a floating house for his chickens which insures a safe, dry place for them when the tide is high, while at low water they can feed outside. Rev. Wolfe did not say whether or not he had supplied his flock with tide tables.  (Raymond newspaper in 1908)

In the second issue, Summer 1966, Charlie Nelson wrote about his folks who were married in Oysterville in 1873:
In those days there was no shortage of food for every family put up a barrel or two each of beef and salmon. Many also kept cows, pigs, chickens and raised good gardens. Needless to say there was always plenty of shellfish for the taking.

Amelia Aubicon Petit (1830-1924)

The very next issue told of the Amable Petit family who arrived in Chinookville on the 8th of September 1866, in a two-masted schooner which none of those aboard knew how to sail against the wind; hence, they moved only with the out-going tide or when the wind favored them. Much of the time they were anchored or tied up to the bank waiting for the tide to turn.  It took them over a month to make the trip from Portland to Chinookville.
When anchored near a farm, someone often came out to the schooner to ask what they were peddling! But they bought food from the farmers living along the river, in one place corn, in another chickens, fruits, and other products.

In the Winter 1988 issue were “Some Stories of the Howard Family”  by Mrs. Neva (Howard) Roberts who was born on a farm in Brooklyn, Pacific County on November 16, 1897.
Early in September 1902, after a period of drought, there came a day of very low humidity and the sun failed to rise, or so it seemed. In Montesano, I have been told, people went about with lanterns and many were scared that it was the ‘End of the World.’ The cows came to the barn in midmorning and the chickens went to roost. The dogs barked and the sky was completely dark. Father said he didn’t think it was the End of the World, but probably a bad forest-fire.

Little Red Hen, a good listener

And, from “The Life and Times of Ned Needham (1902-1995)”  in the  Spring 2000 Sou’wester:
Growing Up around Oysterville and Nahcotta
We moved from the Nasel in March, 1908, by barge with two cows, a horse, and  flock of chickens to 24- acres between Nahcotta and Oysterville. Why my folks bought this place I will never know, since there was no way you could make a living of it.
As an addendum to his article, the 94-year-old author wrote: One piece of advice: if you have read this, don’t wait until you are as old as I am before you write your own history, for your memory and spelling will not be as good as it was when you were younger. Of course old age is a good excuse for all your shortcomings.

I say “Amen!” to that.  I plan to tell these stories to the girls later on today — maybe when I go to tuck them in tonight.  I wonder what they’ll think of them.  You never can tell with chickens…