Archive for the ‘Backyard Chickens’ Category

When Slutvana Was Young and Frisky

Wednesday, October 6th, 2021


Slutvana laid her first egg on January 14, 2017 — almost five years ago!  I don’t think she had revealed her name yet  It was during a rooster-less time period in the coop and we were still referring to this young (35 weeks old) hen by her provenance name, “Russian Orloff.”  According to my blogs of that period, she was a good layer and her production continued at a steady four or five eggs a week for several years — even after she discovered boys!  She never did go broody, though.  Motherhood did not seem to be a priority.

For several years around that time, we had had a run of bad experiences with roosters and had been careful not to add any to our flock.  But in May 2018 (when all our hens had probably given up even the faintest hope of children) Tucker called and asked Nyel if he was interested in a little rooster that was hanging out at their house.  Of course, Farmer Nyel couldn’t resist and so… “The  Banty Rooster Rescue on School Street” took place.  Mr. Banty was soon incorporated into our small flock and, despite the fact that he was half as big as any of the three hens, there was not a doubt about who ruled the roost.

Mr. Banty Rooster

Mr. B had his way with all the girls all the time — or so it seemed to me.  But only the Russian Orloff actually sought him out if she felt she was being neglected (read “left alone for more than an hour”).  She was incorrigible and practically shouted out her name to us.  “Okay,” we said.  “Slutvana it is.”

Since then, roosters have come and gone and Slutvana’s heart has no doubt been broken repeatedly.  She doesn’t complain, although I do wonder if her slow-and-intermittent production over the past two years is related to a lack of love interest possibilities in the coop.  If so, the love-sickness has definitely been catching and none of our girls (who are all about the same age) have been laying.  For several years.

Morning Bounty – January 16, 2017

As we all know, roosters are not needed for egg production.  But maybe they are required for hen happiness and maybe THAT’s the bottom line.  So to speak.  Eggs or no eggs, however, there will be no roosters in our coop as long as Mrs. Farmer Nyel is in charge of chicken chores.  I’ve fought off my last frenzied feathered fowl and shed my last blood to rooster spurs and made my last rooster delivery to the poultry auction house in Chehalis.  I’ll be the first to tell you that store-bought-eggs look (and taste) pretty darned good after repeated rooster attacks, you betcha!

Can I have that in writing, Slutvana?

Friday, October 1st, 2021

LRH: “Is it time for the meeting yet?”

One thing about chickens… they definitely know how to leave their signatures.  Lately, at our house, they’ve been signing all over the East Porch.  That’s their go-to  negotiations center, whether or not a meeting has been called.

Usually, Little Red Hen is the first to arrive.  She waits patiently, perched on the doorstep and peering through the window with one eye or the other, waiting for Farmer Nyel to call the meeting to order.  With treats.   Slutvana and Clara are usually not far behind, although sometimes they wait to see if it is actually a meeting day or if its just wishful thinking on LRH’s part.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s sunny or gloomy or actually raining out.  Nor does it matter whether they have just enjoyed their morning wake-up treats or it’s late afternoon shortly before kiss-and-goodnight-time.  The girls definitely expect meetings on demand.  Go figure.

You’d think that “free ranging” (as they are) would give them constant opportunities for interesting snacks throughout the garden.  The property is plenty big — especially when you consider that we are down to only three girls.  There should be more than enough delights to go around.  But no.  They seem to prefer the hand-delivered snacks that Farmer Nyel provides at his periodic conferences.  “We’ll wait right here,” is clear without the need for an interpreter.

Slutvana is always the last to arrive at the porch.  She also is the most reluctant about the morning scratch that I take to them each day when I open the coop gate and wish them “Bon appetit and bonne chance with the foraging.”  This morning, though, for the first time ever Slutvana checked out the scratch (crumbled up, stale rice crackers), turned right around and growled as she followed me back to the house.  Yes!  Growled!!!  My knee-jerk response was, “Can I have that in writing please, Ms. Slutvana?”

I reported her cheekiness (do chickens have cheeks) and downright impertinence to Farmer Nyel and, don’t you know, within twenty minutes all three were at the East Door making further demands.  I’m just a bit gleeful to report that Farmer Nyel has not yet called a conference for today.  The girls, though. have not given up.  And they are leaving their signatures all over the meeting site!

Our Freeloading Feathered Friends

Tuesday, September 14th, 2021


We have just a few days of official summer left and, if they continue weather-wise like yesterday and today, we may well leave this 2021 season with kindly thoughts after all.   About the weather, that is.  About summer production in the coop, not so much. It’s highly doubtful that our girls will be able to make up for their recalcitrant summer egg-laying behavior.  So far, in June, July, and August COMBINED — nine eggs!  Nine!  Among three healthy, in their prime-of-life chickens!  I despair!!

Slutvana in the north nest box.

We think that all nine eggs were laid by the same hen — probably Slutvana.  She often hangs out in the north nest box and all nine eggs showed up there.  What’s more, they all looked very much alike.  The egg count has been: June 0, July 4, August 5.  The last two (yes, two!!) were laid on August 14 — exactly one month ago today.  According to the chicken experts it is possible for a hen to lay two eggs in a day, though highly unusual.

Little Red Hen

So… that was a month ago.  Since then: zip.  Perhaps Slutvana was thinking “Over” and “Out” and those were the final two she was going to produce.  Maybe she got tired of doing all the work (even though it wasn’t all that much.)  She probably noticed that Little Red Hen and Clara were getting treats every early morning at roll call when she was still hanging out in the nest box.  So now she’s freeloading right along with the other two.

Perhaps we need a re-naming ceremony — Freida-the-Freeloader, Marietta-the-Mooch, and Sparkle-the-Sponge.  More likely we need new laying stock but this Farmer’s wife is here to tell you… probably not gonna happen.


The Egg Count — Waxing by Moonlight?

Wednesday, July 21st, 2021

July 19th – Egg of the Month?

I’ve been noting “egg” on the kitchen calendar each time one appears in a nest box.  Actually in “the” nest box, for although there are three of them, only the north one has seen any deposits for the last several years.  The girls are silent on the reason(s) for this.

Day before yesterday, on the 19th, we received our first egg for this month. Last month we were gifted with three — on the 19th, the 21st, and the 22nd.  All in the same nest box and all by the same hen, at least as far as we can tell.  Each egg has been the same shape, size, texture and color — a sure give-away, but only to a point.  Same girl, but we are unsure as to exactly which girl.  Once again, I wish those eggs came with identifying initials!

We think, though, that it’s probably Slutvana.  She’s the only one who hangs out in the nest boxes — actually, always the north one.  However, though her nest box lounging is a daily activity, there is not always an egg involved.  Read:  hardly ever.

Moonrise Over Willapa Bay

Noting the dates of these last two months, I’m wondering if the egg-laying has anything to do with the phases of the moon. Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I know I’m reaching, but we’ve run out of other ideas.  Day before yesterday the moon was “Waxing Gibbous” and will be full day after tomorrow, the 23rd.  Last month on the 19th the moon was also Waxing Gibbous and was full on the 24th.

And for those who care — probably not the chickens — “Gibbous” comes from a root word meaning “hump-backed.”  According to the online Earth-Sky site:  People often see a waxing gibbous moon in the afternoon, shortly after moonrise, while it’s ascending in the east as the sun is descending in the west. It’s easy to see a waxing gibbous moon in the daytime because, at this phase of the moon, a respectably large fraction of the moon’s dayside faces our way.  And furthermore: Bottom line: A waxing gibbous moon is in the sky when darkness falls. It lights up the early evening. It appears more than half lighted, but less than full. A waxing gibbous moon comes between  first quarter moon and full moon. 

Note:  The site is silent on chickens.  And eggs.

Talk about a one-armed paper hanger!

Monday, July 19th, 2021

Farmer Nyel, Coop Cleaner Extraordinaire

We’ve all heard the jokes about being “busier than a one-armed paper hanger” but I don’t know of an equivalent saying about a one-legged coop cleaner.  That was Farmer Nyel yesterday — taking on a way over-doo-doo (ahem!) project.  It took most of the afternoon and involved a spade, a shovel, a scraper a five-gallon bucket, a large compost container, a battery-operated drill, a catspaw, fresh wood shavings and a lot of tongue-biting by me.

During the first part of Nyel’s project, I had a small job of my own — cutting and hacking at the blackberry brambles, the bindweed, and ivy that have worked their way into the chicken run during the current growing season.  Nyel’s theory has always been that the girls will make short work of the greenery (although maybe not the stickery ones.)  Wrong!  And of course, we also think that we should be getting eggs (at least occasionally) from these lay-abouts.  Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!  They obviously don’t know the Chicken Rules — not the Rules According to Farmer Nyel, anyway.

Inside the Coop

The worst part of Nyel’s job was wrestling the dropping board out of the coop.  It’s big.  It’s bulky.  It’s poopy and  uncooperative.  Plus it’s old and rotten and fell to pieces as he was pulling it out of the back “clean-out door” and (I might add) trying to keep his balance at the same time.  It was scary.  My offers to help got a very sharp response in rather negative terms.  So… I left the premises like any sensible wife would do.   The chickens had left long since — another example of fowl wisdom extraordinaire.

Shortly before dinnertime, the cleanout and repair work had been completed.  Praise be!  Farmer Nyel even accepted my offer to refurbish the nest boxes and the coop floor with wood shavings while he headed into the house to put away tools and clean himself up.  By the time I called those ungrateful chickens home to “slip between clean sheets’ (well… the chicken equivalent to that lovely fresh bed feeling) I was really happy the day was over.  Mostly I was pleased that our one-legged coop cleaner had, once again, allayed our fears and proved that he was up to all coop duties as required.  What a guy!

Thank-you Egg!

And… this morning, guess what?  A thank-you egg!  Sometimes those girls really amaze us.


Enough with the gray already!

Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

Just Beyond The Garden Gate

I don’t mind gray hair.  I find gray clothing rather soothing.  But I’m not a fan of this interminable gray weather.  I SO wish the inland areas would cool off a bit so our “moist marine layer” would move on and we could get back to the sunny skies of summer.

The flowers in our garden couldn’t agree more.  The girls and I took a walk-about this afternoon to talk to them regarrding this weather pattern we’ve been experiencing.  They were silent for the most part but just as we were about to leave them to wait for summer on their own, out came the  sun!  It was just for a moment or two but I swear to you, those flowers perked right up.  They actually turned in unison toward that bit of brightness and we could all but hear their sighs of contentment.

Garden Girls

Of course, it didn’t last.  In fact, the sunshine was of such short duration I wondered if I had imagined it.  But no!  The girls had stopped their peck-peck-pecking and were standing stock still — or maybe shock still.  It was so out of the ordinary for this July of 2021 that none of us quite knew how to react.

I found myself telling Little Red Hen and Clara (I’m not sure where Slutvana was) that Farmer Nyel says there will be no change in the weather for another two weeks.  Fourteen more days of gray!!  I wonder if there will be any colors left by the end of July — or will they have all been sucked away by the inland heat dome.  Perhaps we can prevail on the Disney people to colorize our world again.  Soon.  Before we forget what summer colors usually look like! Surely we’ve had enough of the gray.


Come to think of it — it’s not just spitting!

Wednesday, July 7th, 2021

It occurred to me when my friend Cate commented on my chicken-spitting-watermelon-seeds blog that there are several other things that our girls miss out on.  Take the significance of Lauren Bacall, for instance, and her remark to Bogie: “You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.”  (And did you know that she tucked a whistle into his coffin at his funeral?)

Obviously she couldn’t have said that to Clara or Slutvana or to Little Red Hen.  Not a lip among ’em!  And I’m not sure if it would work with beaks.  Furthermore, are they even able to blow?  Or, when it comes right down to it, what about sucking?  (Isn’t that the opposite of blowing?)  I’ve never seen a chicken do that either.  Beaks may have their advantages, but they definitely can’t compete with some of the lip qualities we know and  love.

And what about lipstick?  “Yes” for us.  “No” for chickens.  Although… I did read somewhere that there are birds with bright red beaks, but not chickens as far as I know.  On the other hand… I doubt if they ever have a need for Chapstick or have any concept at all of chapped lips.  Lucky them.

Well, I think it all goes back to celebrating our differences!  Everybody’s.  Yours, mine, and the chicken people’s.   After all, they may not be able to pucker up but, on the other hand, it’s not so easy for us to fluff and preen, either.  Not literally, anyway.


The thing about chickens and watermelons…

Monday, July 5th, 2021

According to my Kuzzin Kris, the best part of watermelons are the black seeds.   “These wimpy seedless watermelons are no fun at all,” she told me not too long ago.  That’s because the entire point of watermelons are the seed-spitting contests!  Which she also believes every kid should learn about before they start losing their teeth.

I wish I’d known Kris a bit better when I was younger.  I grew up, much to the misplaced envy of others, an only child.  That meant watermelon was served on a plate with a fork and with several paper napkins.  Keeping the sticky juice off your hands and face and the tablecloth seemed to be what eating watermelons were all about.  I didn’t see the point.  Not much payoff.  I’d rather cool off with a glass of lemonade, thank you.

Of course, all of our watermelons had seeds in those days.  They were simply an annoyance.  I sure do wish I’d been a little younger and had known Kuzzin Kris and her seed-spittin’ comrades a lot better.  It might have changed my whole attitude about hot weather fun.

Now it seems a bit late.  And besides, we usually don’t have a choice — seedless is it.  Last night we saved all the rinds for this morning’s  chicken treats.  They gave a few desultory pecks and followed me back to the house.  Hoping for cracked corn.  Can’t say I blame  them.  It’s probably a sweet versus savory thing and they definitely prefer the cracked corn and meal worms  over watermelon.

I don’t even think the ones with seeds would help.  Chickens really don’t spit well.

Not Quite Up To Third Grade Competence

Saturday, June 26th, 2021

I can’t speak to now, but when I was in school and for the 39 years I taught young children, problem solving in math was introduced in third grade.  Like most other school-related learning situations, some kids loved “story problems.”  Some did not.  (I notice that they are calling them “word” problems today. Why?  More grown-up sounding?  Definitely not as intriguing.  But I digress…)

As we got to the chapters on story problems each year, more than one teacher said, “You’ll use these skills for the rest of your life.  After all, that’s what life is — a series of problem-solving events.”  I’m sure I said something similar to my third graders and now, the older I get, the more I agree with that sentiment.

In recent years, however, I’ve had far more opportunities to observe chickens than kids.  And, I have to say, almost all of our girls are good problem solvers. In fact, according to Chicken  Chickens are complex, inquisitive animals who form social bonds, understand their place in the “pecking order,” and have advanced problem-solving skills.

The article goes on to say: Decades of research have transformed the meaning of “bird brain,” revealing chickens’ “finely honed sensory capacities, their ability to think, draw inferences, apply logic and plan ahead,” according to Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at Bristol University.  And scientists have learned that, like some other animals including pigs, chickens are smarter than four-year-old children when it comes to skills involving math, self control, and logic. These birds can reason through deduction, a skill picked up by human children around the age of seven.

At birth, chicks already have a basic understanding of numbers and can differentiate between different quantities. Five-day-old chicks have even demonstrated a knack for arithmetic in tracking sets of objects of different quantities hidden behind screens. These birds perform similarly to primates in terms of memory, recalling the path of a hidden ball for more than two minutes.

The article goes on to say that chickens form deep bonds and can remember the faces of more than 100 other birds!  Among our very tiny flock — just three old biddies right now — there is no question about their recognizing one another, of course!  We are also well aware of some of their “24 different vocalizations” and of their understanding and acceptance of their roles in the pecking order.

However,  of all the chicken information cited, I was most interested that chickens are capable of deceit – for example, when males falsely announce the arrival of food to grab the attention of females and keep other males away. Females can quickly pick up on this deception, however, and ignore males who don’t tell the truth.    

I almost think that the same is true (only, perhaps in different circumstances) of third grade girls and boys and their various interactions.  Not that it’s only males who may not be telling the truth.  But I do think that little girls pick up the nuances more quickly than do the boys…  Or perhaps I’m confusing those third graders with the girls in the coop.


A ‘Me Too’ Movement Among The Girls?

Friday, June 18th, 2021

Do the girls think that Jackson’s on his way back?

Ever since Jackson-the-Lover-Dog made his intentions known to horrified Clara, Farmer Nyel’s girls have kept a low profile.  Granted, when we are allowed a glimpse of them, it’s easy to spot Clara with her one remaining tail feather and we are quite sympathetic to her embarassment over her missing plumage.

We are not so sure, however, why Slutvana and Little Red Hen are staying out of sight.  We suspect it’s a sign of solidarity in the coop and that the girls are plotting and planning some sort of protest movement.  Perhaps along the lines of the #Me Too social movement among the human women of their acquaintance.  It will be interesting to see how they work out the matter of signage and whether or not they are able to get other Peninsula hens to join them.

In A Garden Corner:
Hunkering Hens

Meanwhile, even though I’ve been letting them out of the chicken run and into the garden, they have kept a very low profile.  They may be hunkering under the house.  Or maybe in among the most impenetrable of the rhododendrons.  I’m not sure if they are staying out of sight in case Jackson (or one of his compatriots) returns or if they just don’t want anyone to know what they are up to.  Either way… life with chickens is always a bit of a mystery.