Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

Look who’s back!

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

Looking Out Our East Door

It wasn’t quite dark last night when I walked past our east door and saw on the lawn… one small black chicken!  Our runaway had returned!  I stood very still so as not to frighten her but I needn’t have worried.  Up the three steps and onto the porch she came, staring intently at me as if to say, “Don’t go away!  I’m back!”

I, however, was terrified that she’d get skittish when I opened the door, so I called Farmer Nyel and turned the situation over to him.  I needn’t have worried.   He opened the door, spoke in encouraging tones to naughty Miss Runaway, and was able to pick her up without incident.  She looked a bit rumpled, but steadfastly refused to tell us where she had been or what she had been doing.  How she knew to come to the once-upon-a-time front door is beyond us but, clearly, she wanted to come in.

Nyel soon had her settled back in the ICU next door to her sister who ran back and forth along the adjoining chicken wire, cheeping excitedly.  Ms. Runaway, however, paid no attention.  Clearly, she was famished and immediately (and for some time) gave full attention to her food dish.  When she’d eaten her fill, she settled down for a nap without so much as a “glad to be home.”   Her sister. on the other hand, was still chirping and cheeping and trying to find out all about where the heck she’d been and why she looked like she had a few wild experiences.

Farmer Nyel Checks Her Out

It was the perfect ending to a rather peculiar day.  I had been scheduled to give a history talk/tour of the Oysterville Church and its erstwhile Parsonage to a group of Community Historians.  Of the fourteen people on the signup sheet, only six showed up.  Just as well – half way through the tour, one of the women whispered to me, “Your sweater is on inside out.”

Sure enough – the label was at the center of the front neckline like a shiny brooch and there was another label sticking straight out of a side seam at about waist level.  Oh brother!  I, of course, responded with a loud, “You’re kidding!  Inside out?”    “I was trying to be discreet,” my informant said kindly.  Oh well.  Might as well admit to knowing what everyone by then had noted.  If I could have made a fashion statement out of it, I would have.

I’d like to make a cause-and-effect claim.  Something like: if your young chicken goes missing for four days, put your sweater on inside out and she’ll come home again.  As I have often said, you never can tell with chickens.  (Or with old ladies, apparently.)

Horsefeather Haven: High-End Chicken ICU

Friday, May 11th, 2018

Farmer Nyel Puts Finishes Touches on Horsefeather Haven

Farmer Nyel spent a good part of yesterday converting his newly acquired horse trough into a double-roomed intensive care unit for our ailing chickens.  After a thorough cleaning, he covered the trough bottom with wood chips, divided the space with chicken wire, fashioned extra food and water containers, and made a removeable chicken wire lid.

“If they wanted,” I worried, “they could still get at each other through that chicken wire.  Don’t you think that the partition between them should be a solid wall?”

“They’d get lonely,” Nyel countered.  “And besides, I don’t think one of them would put her head through and leave it there to be pecked by the other.  They aren’t that stupid.”

Chickens In Their Very Own ICU

I’m not so sure.  We have no evidence that there was a struggle when the feather-pecking transpired in the first place.  On the other hand, I was touched by Farmer Nyel’s concern about them getting lonely.  I’m not sure the avoidance of chicken loneliness would be high on my priority list. But Nyel’s softheartedness often comes through when it comes to animals and little kids and even, occasionally, to plants.

The feather issue plus the repurposing of the horse trough naturally led to me to think of the new establishment as ‘Horsefeather Haven.’   Horsefeathers is a term meaning ‘nonsense’ and was coined in 1927. Though there is no nonsense involved in this Chicken ICU, it seemed an appropriate name, somehow.

I also discovered when I looked up the term just now that Merriam Webster has an online site listing, by year, when terms and words came into usage.  ‘Pecking order’ is also listed under 1927.  Obviously, the name ‘Horsefeather Haven’ was meant to be!

Mean Girls in the Halfway House

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Big Girls at the Halfway House

Judy Eron of Double J and the Boys has written a number of songs that I absolutely love.  The chorus of one of them __ “I picked his plum tree bare” – has been rocketing around in my head since last night when Nyel came inside after locking up the chickens for the night.

“Well,” he began, “we have one bald-headed chicken.”

“WHAT?  WHY? IS SHE ALL RIGHT?”  Although I doubt if I was that articulate.  All I could hear was the chorus of Judy’s song but with different words:  “They pecked the chick’s head bald…”

We had been noticing a feather-disappearance problem for several days with the two smallest girls, still under the heat lamp in the back forty.  The black chicken, slightly smaller than the white one, appeared to be losing feathers on the back of her neck and Nyel suspected that the white chicken was pecking and pulling at them.

Black Chick’s Neck

“And EATING them?” was my rather horrified question.  There certainly had been no stray feathers visible in their little temporary coop.

“Maybe,” said the Farmer, “and her poop has been runny.  I think those feathers are giving her diarrhea.”

So, he took that mean girl out and put her in the Halfway House with the three other adolescents.  Mean Girl is all feathered out and he thought she was big enough to be with her older sisters. That would give the little black hen time to recover until she, too, could go outside with the others.

I hasten to add that Farmer Nyel had been researching and, having learned that some chickens peck the others because of a salt deficiency, he had added the recommended amount of salt to their water.  Apprarently, this behavior is not all that uncommon among the chicken population.  However, the added salt did not appear to help.

Bald Chick

So… for whatever reason, once out with her big sisters in the Halfway House, the little white hen became the victim.  Nyel brought her in, put her back under the heat lamp with the little black hen, and went online again to learn how to doctor her. In a few minutes, he headed for the back forty armed with the tube of Neosporin.  Today he will make a separate hospital room for her using our newly acquired horse trough and we will hope for the best.

Both the injured girls seem to be in fairly good spirits and they huddle together affectionately whenever we go out to check on them.  If they are distressed by the feather-pulling they certainly aren’t saying so.  Chickens may be cannibals but they aren’t tattlers.

Halfway House for the Three Big Girls

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

Littlest Chicks – Still in the Box

It was moving day for three of our five new chickens – the three oldest ones.  They are feathered out, getting their combs and wattles, and beginning to strut their stuff.  So, Farmer Nyel thought they were ready for larger quarters – outside the box.  Literally.

They’ve been indoors in a big box under a heat lamp for a month or so now and they were already far beyond peep-dom when they arrived.  Not so their two little sisters who will join them when they get a bit bigger.  Actually, more than a bit.  They are getting their feathers, but they have a way to go before I would call them adolescents.  Or even toddlers.  Maybe another month.

Meanwhile, the big girls are now in the Gated Community where our four oldest chickens have been ruling the roost for quite a while.  But, the newest three have a separate area – their very own halfway house, you might say.  They can see the older girls and talk to them and even rub beaks through the chicken wire, but they are safely in their own area until they get acclimated to being outside.  And, mostly, until the oldest biddies look like they are going to accept these newcomers into their midst.

Gated Community

We’ve had trouble with that in the past.  In fact, one of the red hens actually attacked and killed two new girls a couple of years ago.  It was an experience Farmer Nyel does not want repeated.  In fact, though she has no inkling that she is under surveillance, the guilty hen is being watched carefully.  If there is any indication that her killer instincts are still intact, she will be put in the Halfway House when the others become full-fledged coop residents.  And if she can’t get over herself… stew pot!  She’s a tough old bird, so more likely it will be chicken tacos.

Halfway House

I talked to her about that plan while she was out working with me in the garden today.  She listened carefully, but I’m not sure she understood the seriousness of my tone.  She seemed unusually friendly and I’m hoping this is not some clever hen ploy to get me off guard.  But, in the end, it’s Farmer Nyel who will decide her fate.  Back into the Gated Community?  Forever in the Halfway House?  Or stew pot?  It’s hard to convince a chicken that she has choices!

Chickens on a Field Trip

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Farmer Nyel and Friends

Finally!  Yesterday I found my way out of the cranberry bog (read: turned in the manuscript for “Washington’s Cranberry Coast”) and had a look around.  At last I could leave vines and varieties and pickers and pruners behind and get re-acquainted with the real world.

A lot can happen in a few weeks.  Since I had surfaced last, the weather had turned warm, Farmer Nyel had made progress on the vegetable garden, and the four old ladies-of-the-coop had re-established their claim on their world’s worm supply.   And, under the heat lamp in the back forty, even the smallest of the baby peeps were beginning to feather out.

Field Trip

We have five new chickens now.  Two are still small enough to be considered “peeps” and three have reached the stage between toddler and adolescence – almost completely feathered out, developing their combs, and doing a lot of wing-flapping.  Trying to figure it all out, I guess.  I don’t know if it helped or hindered that Farmer Nyel decided they were old enough to take a field trip.

He put them into a small, makeshift cage near his work area so he could keep an eye on them.  At first, they did the statue thing – just stood very still, waiting to see what would happen next.  When nothing did, they began to practice a few new tricks – pecking and scratching in the dirt and grass.  They seemed content – didn’t even miss a beat when one of the old ladies (the Russian Orloff) came over and introduced herself.  She was curious; they were not.

First Meeting

They were outside for a couple of hours – long enough that they seemed ravenous when they were taken in to rejoin their little sisters.  They headed right for the food tray, even before they told the little ones about their adventure.  I don’t know if another field trip is planned for today.  It probably depends upon the weather and it is, after all, still April.  At least, that’s what the calendar tells me.  It’s hard to know when you’ve just emerged from the bog.

Borscht for Breakfast?

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

Gathered at the Water Cooler

Yesterday was a 3-a.m.-to-11 p.m.-kinda-day for the old ducks of the household and, for our chicken tenants, it was a day of slim pickin’s, apparently.  On the assumption that they would be just fine (and they were, lest you worry!) we didn’t head out to the coop in the wee hours before we left for appointments in Seattle.  Nor did we check on the girls in the pitchy night when we got back.

The Well-loved Tetherball

First thing this morning, out I went and found the four girls gathered ’round the empty water trough, impatiently waiting for a refill.  When I checked the food supply in the coop, that cupboard, too, was bare.  And the cabbage tether ball was just about completely decimated.  If those girls WERE laying, which they are not, would the eggs taste slightly like cabbage?  Probably a good thing those nest boxes are still empty!

All is well now, and we can get on with our day.  I apologized profusely to the girls and promised them a new cabbage tetherball.  If I could figure out how to add beets to their game, they could have borscht for tomorrow’s breakfast.  Our Russian Orloff would probably enjoy that – but I’m not sure about the others.

Spied Getting a Retread

Meanwhile… it’s a lot of scurry and hurry around here.  Last minute cleaning, a little decorating, a lot of cooking and maybe, just maybe, we’ll be ready for Marta and Charlie when they arrive on Friday!  Then… let the Season begin!  (It would be really nice to find an egg or two down in that chicken coop for Christmas breakfast – even it DID taste a bit like the offerings from my old friend Peter Popkov’s Russian Restaurant c. 1950s in San Francisco…  But that’s another story.)  Meanwhile, we have photographic evidence that Santa is readying his sleigh.  Bring on Christmas, borscht and all!

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!