Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

Looking for Clara

Wednesday, April 28th, 2021

The Three Friends – February 2020

Nyel’s eyes are sharper than mine.  So is his mind.  When he volunteered to go outside and have a look around for Missing Clara, I was all for it.  So were Slutvana and Little Red Hen.

The three of them traversed the the garden looking in all the hidey places, likely and unlikely.  No luck.  Nyel thought the two girls were just following along hoping for treats, but I’m not so sure.  I think they were counting on Farmer Nyel to find their missing friend.  No such luck.

Perhaps she went under the house.  “If she died there, will she smell?” I worried.   “Probably some critter or other has gotten her by now,” was the not-so-very reassuring answer

Dear, beautiful Clara.  We are so sorry.  We wish we knew what happened  We wish we could have helped.

It’s often hard with chickens…


The Swallows Are Back!

Wednesday, April 14th, 2021

Cliff Swallows at the Church – June 1, 2020

Nyel saw them first — day before yesterday, circling around outside our kitchen window.  The swallows are back!  If they’d just slow down a tad, maybe we could tell if they are of the Cliff or Barn variety.  Paul, our ORF President, especially wants to know!

Cliff swallows are the ones who nest in the eaves of the Oysterville Church.  Some people call them “Mud Swallows” because they make their neat round nests of mud rather than of grass and mud like barn swallows’ cup-like structures.  Cliff swallows usually nest in colonies which, in the western United States can number up to 3,700 nests in one spot according the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

We hope they are not aiming to match that record at the Oysterville Church!  But even a dozen or so nests can produce quite a mess on the walls — not only unsightly but damaging to the paint and expensive to clean up.  Paul has made it a mission to discourage them from nesting on the church — even had some special wooden “inserts” placed along the eaves last winter. Whether or not they will work should be determined shortly.  Bets are running about evenly here in Oysterville!

Barn Swallows (second batch) on Our Front Porch – Aug. 9, 2016

Meanwhile, we are watching to see what “our” barn swallows will do.  Nyel has reluctantly agreed that they can “have” the kitchen garden area, but he’s hoping to discourage them on the front porch.  Lots of luck with that, I say.  And besides… I love to watch them raise their families and chirp from on high at our backyard chickens.  I wonder if the girls have flight-and-swoop envy?  Its always hard to tell with chickens.

Research, Reality, and the Color of Eggs

Monday, April 12th, 2021

Eggs in the nest boxes are few and far between these days.  Maybe one a week.  And, all of a sudden, they are the wrong color!

It happened again yesterday – a white egg in the north nest box.  We have only three chickens now – a Barred Rock, a Russian Orloff, and a Rhode Island Red.  They are all brown egg layers, according to all of the Chicken and Egg Experts.  And,  since we have had these girls – upwards of four years for the Little Red Hen and two-to-three for the others – they have faithfully followed the rules.  Until a month or so ago, all eggs have been in the brown tones – darker for Clara (the Barred Rock), a medium brown for Slutvana (the Russian) and Little Red (the Rhode Island gal.)

“Could a visiting chicken be sneaking into the coop?” one of my friends asked.  Highly unlikely, I’d wager.  The nearest chickens, as far as I know, belong to neighbors about a mile south of us – a long commute for a chicken.

“Do eggs change color as the layer ages?” someone else asked.  “Like hair or fur going gray over time?”  Not that I’ve ever heard of.  As far as I can learn from Farmer Nyel’s Chicken Book Library, one egg color for life is the rule for hens.  Generally, there are brown egg-laying breeds, white egg-laying breeds and two “Easter-egger” breeds who lay blue or green eggs.

And then the other day, Vicki sent me information about a gorgeous breed of black chickens who lay black eggs!  Seriously. Called the “Lamborghini of poultry,” the Ayam Cemani, a rare Indonesian chicken is completely black – black feathers, skin, beak, comb and all internal organs and bones are black, as well. The chickens are extremely rare and sell for $199 to $400 per bird.  A breeding pair recently sold for $5.000.  (And, no, we won’t be adding that particular breed to our flock.)

But, so far, I can find no reports of chickens changing the color of their eggs. Only in Oysterville, apparently.

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?