Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

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.)

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!