Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

Remote Rooster Control Contraption

Thursday, October 11th, 2018

Coop Door, Closed

Where was Rube Goldberg when we needed him?  Oh… wait a minute.  We didn’t need him at all.  When the young rooster of our flock finally got his alpha on, it was Tucker to the rescue!

This latest rooster problem began just about the time Farmer Nyel went out of commission.  He (the rooster, not Nyel) had begun to make threatening gestures toward me a few days before the fall put him (Nyel, not the rooster) out of the chicken business for a while.  Carol took over while we were in Vancouver at Peace Health and that pesky rooster threatened her, as well.  Then, day before yesterday, when I let the flock out of the coop in the early morning, that reprobate rascal spread his wings and flew at me feet first, talons at the ready.  Twice.

Coop Door Open

If you’ve never been on the receiving end of a raging rooster, you probably aren’t very sympathetic.  But, I’m here to tell you that it is scary AND if they make contact there will be bloody damage to show for it.  “That’s it!  I’ve had it!” I told Farmer Nyel.  “I’ll only let them out when it’s still dark – before they are up and alert.”

About then, though, Tucker called and asked if the rooster was behaving for me.  “I think I have a solution to your problem,” he said.  “I’ll come down after they go into the coop to roost tonight and see what I can do.”

The solution involved a small rope, a pulley, and a couple of hooks.  In the morning at first light, I went into the run and released the latch on the coop door.  I could hear the hens clucking and shifting around on their roosts and, of course, both roosters (the alpha and the beta) were crowing their heads off.  I left the run, closed the man-door, pulled the rope to open the coop door and hooked the rope on the chicken wire ‘wall’ so that the door remained open.

Stalking Rooster

Out trooped the seven chickens.  They were led, of course, by that big, beautiful, black rooster.  He headed right for me and was not a bit happy that the chicken wire fence AND  a hog wire fence intervened between us.  As I walked along, he walked right along beside me, keeping his beady eye on my every move.  Just to check, I turned and walked the other way.  So did he.  He hates me.

“Nya nya nya!” I said.  I just couldn’t help myself.  Then I went right inside and emailed Tucker:  “Worked like a charm!”

Stalking Some More

Rube, himself, couldn’t have done a better job!

Russian Orloff In A Family Way!

Monday, October 8th, 2018

Broody Svetlana

In all the years (ten) that we’ve had chickens, we’ve only had two hens go broody.  The first time was five or six years ago and, in that instance, we had no roosters.  That doesn’t seem to make much difference to the ladies of the coop.  They apparently don’t pay attention during Sex Education 101.  When they decide to have a family, they gather up all available eggs and sit on them, waiting for motherhood to happen.  Never mind that whole fertility thing.

That first time, we bought some fertile eggs from our down-the-street neighbors, Gordie and Susie Andrews.  Our hen accepted the trade-off and, in three weeks, hatched out two chicks who successfully joined the flock (only to be captured along with everyone else by marauding raccoons a few weeks later.)

This time, two out of seven of our flock are roosters.  Robust roosters!  And their favorite hen is this (now broody) Russian Orloff.  Since the roosters first discovered what being cocky was all about, they’ve been hanging out with her – won’t leave her alone, in fact.  She doesn’t seem to mind.  (Farmer Nyel calls her “Svetlana-the-Russian-Slut” or sometimes Slutvana, but don’t tell her. Now that she is in a family way, we want her to keep her dignity intact.)

Brooding Area in Progress

She “went broody” on Sunday, September 30th.  She’d been acting a bit moody before that, but on the last day of September, she refused to leave the nest box.  Period.   She was sitting on two eggs and Farmer Nyel placed three more newly-laid eggs from the other nest boxes under her ample girth.  In the best brooding fashion, she has not left her little clutch since – not that we have seen, anyway.  She probably sneaks out for a little water now and then, but until October 21st (EHD – Estimated Hatching Day), she will continue her maternal vigil.

The nest boxes are fully two feet off the coop floor – not a good spot for baby chicks to hatch.  Farmer Nyel’s broken leg is quite enough for one backyard chicken operation.)  So… we are trying to work out a safe place to move Mama and her eggs.  I do hope I’m up to the task.  Broody Svetlana is not one bit approachable right now.  In fact, one look at her face and you know how ‘broody’ got it’s second meaning!  YIKES!

A Peek at Peak Production

Thursday, September 13th, 2018

Ready for Collection

Six eggs yesterday!  That’s 100% efficiency from the six ladies of the coop.  “Why?” we ask them.  “It’s September,” we tell them.  “The days are getting shorter, not longer,” we point out.  “During the Spring and Summer when you older girls should have been laying, you were on strike,” we remind them.  “What’s going on?”

Chickens – even grown up lady chickens – never answer.  They keep quiet about their egg-laying habits.  But they do seem to smile when we ask.  And they definitely brag after each production success.  Such a clucking and squawking from the coop! I’m sure they are feeling quite smug.

Even on the Coop Floor

But it’s the two roosters who are crowing to beat their record.  Not that they have anything to do with the egg count.  People often ask about that, mistaking the presence of roosters with the arrival of eggs.  No correlation, of course.  Just like with all of us egg-producers, hens can do that part of the job all by themselves.  They just can’t hatch chicks without those roosters around to fertilize the eggs.

And, of course Mrs. Hen has to feel family-minded before she will decide to “go broody” and forego the pleasures of coop run and garden for three weeks.  She has to be of a mind to sit around on her nest day and night, leaving only once in a while to have a bite of food or a sip of water.  It’s a pretty big commitment and not every good layer is a good sitter.

Part of that lack of nesting instinct can be laid (ahem) right at chicken breeders’ doorsteps.  In an effort to get maximum production from hens, farmers have eschewed the good brooders and have developed many breeds that show little inclination toward parenthood. Through their efforts, Silkies, Cochins, Orpingtons, Brahmas, and Sussex are the five broodiest domestic breeds for home hatching purposes.  We don’t have any of those.

Six for Six

Among the ten breeds known to be the best of the layers, though, we do have one:  a Rhode Island Red.  The others – just your garden variety girls without any claim to fame.  So… maybe yesterday was a fluke.  We definitely aren’t complaining —  just hoping that this is more than a tantalizing peek at the production possibilities.  We’ll see.

The Learning Curve

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

Patient Teacher

Back in the dark ages, when I returned to college to earn my teaching credential, I was required to take “methods classes.”  They were all about how kids learn and how to best optimize their natural proclivities in the classroom.  I found those courses to be  very practical, but I’m here to tell you that nothing I learned there works especially well with chickens.

It’s not that chickens can’t learn.  We’ve all seen those YouTube videos of chickens walking on balance beams and jumping through hoops on demand – all for a few kernels of corn.  And most of the chickens we have had over the years have learned the basics of successful coop living.  Keyword:  most.  Some seem to know the tricks of sleeping on the roost and laying eggs in the nest box automatically.  Presumably they learn where to do what by observing the others.  They don’t really talk about it with outsiders.  It seems to be another Guild Secret and I’m guessing that it involves the learning method called Careful Observation.

Being Home Schooled?

Our youngest girls are beginning to lay.  We know that because, all of a sudden, we are getting perfect miniature eggs.  I think of them as “practice eggs.”  Most of our young hens go through that stage for a bit before managing to lay normal sized eggs.  Getting the size just right is no mean feat.  It’s during this practice period that a girl is likely to lay a huge, double-yolked egg which logic says must be painful.  Among chickens not bred to that sort of thing, it seldom happens more than once or twice.  Trial and Error is definitely a big driver among chicken learning methods.

There seems to be some confusion, though, about the purpose of the nest boxes.  The pullets often sleep there rather than on the roost.  Farmer Nyel will probably have to invoke the Because I Say So learning method to correct that problem.  Of course, the operable word isn’t “say.”  Teaching recalcitrant chickens where to bed down involves 1) going to the coop after dark, 2) taking the sleeping offender out of the nest box, and 3) setting her on the roost next to another chicken.  Sometimes the process needs to be repeated several times.  A gigantic pain in the tush (farmer’s, not chicken’s.)

Around the Watering Trough

Meanwhile, at least one of our youngest ladies has taken to laying her eggs under the coop and hiding them behind a large food storage tub.  The Farmer caught a glimpse of such an egg quite by accident and had to enlist the help of his cane to retrieve it.  Perhaps that young hen was thinking it best not to lay her egg in the spot where she usually sleeps.  Good thinking on her part, but based on a few basic misunderstandings.

We are hoping that some of these topics will be clarified as the girls gather around their watering trough.  Now that they are on their own, it seems to be one of the few places where they are consistently in close enough proximity to have an in-depth discussion.  But… it’s hard to tell with chickens.

The Secret Life of Our Americauna

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

Backyard Chickens

“Are you missing a chicken?” Tucker asked us the other morning.  He was calling from the lane, down by the “No Cars Please” sign. He had discovered a pile of brown feathers.

“I don’t think so,” was my reply but when I asked Nyel he said we were, indeed, missing a chicken.  The Americauna had not come the previous night when he called the chickens to lock them in. Oh oh!

But, she showed up later in the day looking none the worse for wear.  No missing feathers – not that we could tell.  She’s big and very fluffy – not sleek like some breeds.  Depending on where her feathers might have gone missing, it would be hard to tell.  Plus, she’s secretive – keeps her own counsel, you might say.  In fact, we aren’t even sure she’s a true Americauna.  That breed lays light blue eggs, presumably.  Hers are brown.  She won’t talk about it.

Americauna in Nest Box

She’s a large chicken, seven or eight pounds – considered “dual purpose” which means good for meat or for eggs.  We are only interested in the eggs and she’s rated ‘good’ in that department – medium-sized and three or four a week.  Americaunas are described as having “a muff and beards and are very hardy and sweet.”  Since her return, she’s spent almost all her waking hours in the nest box — but, she’s not laying.  Gone broody?  Maybe.  But she should be producing eggs to sit on.  She won’t talk about that either.

So, what was she doing away from the coop the night of August 17th?  Whose feathers were those that were seen in the lane and reported by Tucker?  If they did not belong to her, did she perhaps have an altercation with a foreign chicken?  So far, there are no clear answers and no indictments to be made.  The Americauna seems, for now, beyond reproach.

We would feel more inclined to do a full investigation if it had been the Russian Orloff who had gone missing.  She, too, is a large chicken whose ancestors once went by the name ‘Chlianskaia’ and later they were simply known as ‘Russians.’ I’m not sure when or how Count Orloff-Techesmensky got into the act but he, apparently, was quite an enthusiast of that particular breed and introduced them to the European and American public.  By one name or other, they were being imported into the United States as early as 1875.

Russian Orloff – On Guard Duty?

Our Americauna and the Russian Orloff are good friends.  They hang out together when they are free-ranging in the backyard.  They enjoy dust baths together and are equally unfriendly to the newer members of the coop.  That they might be up to clandestine activities is always a possibility.  But the Orloff has not been missing from the coop, nor has she been engaged in any secretive behavior that we know of.  Not time, yet, to call for a Special Investigator.  But we are keeping an eye out for an interpreter.

You never know when it comes to chickens…

Monday, July 16th, 2018

And now there are two!

Saturday was a big day for the denizens of our chicken coop.  First was the cock-a-doodle-doing of not one but two roosters!  Say what??

For some time, Farmer Nyel has been suspicious of one of our April hatchlings.  “That chicken’s comb is getting bigger that the two other girls’… I think ‘she’ might be a rooster.”

Sure enough.  Saturday morning that black teenaged chicken found his voice. All morning long, he practiced crowing while hiding in the rhododendrons at the west end of the garden.  Every time he crowed, the black and white “rescue rooster” (who stood his ground near the oldest ladies of the flock) answered.  We wondered if there would be a confrontation.

So far… detente in the coop!

But we soon had another problem – a pit bull in the yard!  No collar.  No trailing leash.  No apparent owner.  Chasing chickens everywhere.  The chickens quickly found ways to belly under the fence and were gone.  The roosters went silent – no hint as to where any of the nine might be.  The canny dog hung around in the yard (but mostly out of sight) all day – waiting for those chickens to come home.  Nyel did what he could to scare off the dog and collect the chickens.  No dice.

By dusk, the dog had disappeared and when Nyel went out with scratch and called his flock, all but two came dutifully from wherever they’d been hiding.  Two of the three oldest girls did not make it home.  We were pretty sure what had happened.

But… Sunday morning, there they were, waiting outside their gate for Farmer Nyel.  All chickens accounted for!  All chickens locked inside the coop and run for the rest of the weekend.  No more sign of the pit bull.  If the chickens know where he came from or who he belongs to, they have yet to share their information.  Nor are they telling where they hid out until the danger had passed.  As always… you never know when it comes to chickens.

Feeling Like A Marked Woman

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

Mr. Banty and His Lady Friend

We let the seven oldest chickens out into the garden yesterday.  My suggestion.  I was definitely feeling like the day should be shared – it was sunny, warm, beautiful!  But inviting that little banty rooster along?  Big Mistake! Whatever was I thinking?

It’s not that I don’t clearly remember being attacked by the full-sized rooster we had several years ago.  But I have always blamed myself for that.  Little had I realized that crowing back at him would prove to be a serious challenge to his alpha status.  He lost no time in rushing me, wings and tail feathers spread, talons and spurs aimed at my shins.  He had suddenly grown enormous.  And lethal.

I gave that cocky fellow wide berth after that, but even when I was taking food and water to the coop, he would charge me.  Farmer Nyel – who, I hasten to say – saw more than one of these forays, seemed sympathetic and even took over most of the coop duties so I would not be placed in harm’s way.  BUT… when that rooster began attacking Nyel, it was suddenly a different story.  The third time that cocky guy drew blood, he was history.

Those were thoughts close to the surface as I went out to work in the flower beds yesterday.  Mr. Banty Rooster and the three oldest (and biggest) Ladies-of-the-Flock were over by the east fence – probably fifty or seventy-five feet away.  They looked so cute, I raised my camera to take a few pictures and… would you believe it?  Here came Banty!  (And, believe me, there had been NO crowing on my part!)

Banty Bigfoot

He was actually stalking me.  He’d come forward a few feet, then he’d stop and turn his head sideways, one beady little eye looking at me.  A heartbeat or so and then he’d come forward a few feet more.  Stop.  Look.  Assess.  His girls were still back by the east fence, not the least bit interested.  (And, Nyel was mowing nearby – also not the least bit interested.)  On he came as I kept snapping.  And then… the attack!  YIKES!  He may be small but he’s mighty.  I actually ran into the house.

Later, when the chickens were occupied in another part of the yard, I returned to my flower bed.  All was well for about ten minutes and then… here they came!  The girls like to garden with me but I wasn’t taking any chances.  I headed for the nearest door and damned if that little fowl fellow didn’t attack me again as I was on the run!

When I complained to Farmer Nyel, he didn’t exactly laugh.  But I can’t say he was very sympathetic.  He has agreed, however, that the chickens will stay cooped up until further notice.  Until he, himself, is attacked two or three times, I thought to myself, but I wisely said nothing.  The stew pot is at the ready…

Does size really matter in the coop?

Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

In the last week, our flock of backyard chickens (for the time being, confined to quarters) has tripled in number.  From three very fat hens, we have gone to eight ladies of varying sizes and ages plus one very small and cocky Banty rooster.  We have no idea how old he is – mature, for sure, but he is still perfecting his cock-a-doodle-do so we think he is yet young.

However, from the moment he entered the coop, he knew what was required of him and he has been trying his utmost to comply.  The ladies are having none of it.  All of the hens – even those that are still just a few months old – are larger than the Banty.  The three-year-old Russian Orloff and Americauna are more than three times his size.  Watching him try to make his moves with them is comical.

He has figured out that there is no way he can manage unless he approaches the situation from above.  He stands on the ramp into the coop and waits, poised to pounce.  As a hen passes by beneath him, he takes flight but… alas!  She has tidily stepped out of his way by the time he lands – not on her, but on the packed earth of the run.  He has yet to learn that ‘timing is everything.’  And those ladies are quick-footed!

Between attempts, Banty has taken to sitting on top of the little isolation coop – originally built within the bigger compound for use by a broody hen and used more recently as a halfway house for introducing new members to the flock.  It’s from his perch there that he practices sounding authoritarian (and large) hoping, no doubt, for triumph in his next amorous endeavor.

As far as we know, his success rate has been zero.  Farmer Nyel, though, has confidence in young Banty.  “He’ll figure it out,” he says with assurance. (An attitude that is undoubtedly a guy thing…)

Rooster Rescue on School Street

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Tucker came over yesterday in late morning to talk to Nyel about “a chicken problem.”  Next thing I knew, it was lunchtime and Nyel was nowhere to be found.  I thought he might be trying to solve whatever the difficulty was, so I walked over that way and sure enough – there were Tucker and Carol on one side of the street and Nyel and a small Bantam rooster on the other.

Only the rooster was moving.  The others were still as statues – Carol and Tucker watching and Nyel waiting patiently for the rooster to follow the trail of scratch into the cardboard box.  The rooster would circle the area and come oh-so-close… but he was definitely smarter than the average banty.  It had been close to an hour.  “Nyel is the most patient person I’ve ever seen,” Carol whispered to me.  I thought they all were.

“Would a net help?” I called over to Nyel.  With his affirmative answer, Tucker headed over to Dave and Lina’s to see if they had one amongst their hunting and fishing gear.  I headed home.  We have an antique net hanging on our kitchen wall.  Gwen Newton gave it to Nyel years ago.  It was her father’s which probably makes it over 100 years old.

Tucker came up empty-handed so Nyel tried Mr. Newton’s net.  Got him in one!  But only for a minute.  That little banty hopped and spread his wings and broke through that ancient netting in a flash.  Then he beat feet toward the schoolhouse and Carol and I headed him off.  Nyel brought the box.  Tucker disappeared and came back from their place with a roll of wire (a tomato cage?)  Quick as a wink he popped it over the rooster and just as quickly that little banty flew straight up (two and a half or three feet?) and out.  Wow!  That was one determined bird.

But Tucker and Nyel were equal to the challenge.  Tucker overtook the bird, plopped the wire on him again and Nyel got him in the box I-don’t-know-how.  It was quicker than the eye could see.  That little feathered fury is now in the isolation run down at our chicken coop and the hens – several of them three times his size – are milling around outside the wire fencing, full of curiosity but wary.  It’s their first experience with a rooster and Farmer Nyel thinks they’d better get acquainted by degrees.

This is my first introduction to a real-for-sure banty rooster, as well.  I now understand why the sobriquet came to mean “someone of small size but aggressive and spirited.”  Oh, and did I say he’s found his crowing mechanism and is as noisy as he is aggressive – day and night?  My suspicion is that he may be headed for the stewpot if he can’t settle down. So…IF ANYONE IS MISSING A BEAUTIFUL BUT FIESTY BANTY ROOSTER, PLEASE LET US KNOW.

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.)