No More Happy Meals

The girls aren’t full with the happy meal anymore.  You may have seen the little metal feeder we started with.  If not, go to the photo page and look at it in the tub (our original bucket!), and notice that it held PLENTY of food for our little chicas to eat.  It held at LEAST two days worth of food (back in bucket times).  Four days ago, and again three days ago, when I went out in the morning to see how the night had gone, this sweet little tin feeder had been abused, done wrong, emptied, wrung out, kicked aside, discarded, rejected.  As slow as I am on the uptake, the second morning it happened I realized they just plain weren’t happy with their food delivery system.  They blamed me.  I could tell.  (this is a perfect place to say, ‘they looked askance’ at me, but I hesitate – cuz it’s not a word we all use very often.  It means ‘they looked at me with judgment and/or skepticism’).

Since we are happy to throw money at our little charges to please them and make their lives more complete, I toddled off to Tractor Supply Corporation (still my favorite store), bought not only more feed (they’d eaten a whole bag already! *sniff*), but a ‘big girl’ feeder.  This feeder is good for up to 15 birds (maybe next year), and can hold several days of feed in it.  I put it out there on a cinder block so they don’t scratch hay and sawdust into it.

They love it.  I think they love me no matter what; that is, I didn’t buy any more love by getting them a big feeder.  I don’t think they mind getting a full-size meal, even if it means they don’t get the toy in the drive-thru anymore.  They got bored with the toys quickly, anyway, and sometimes, those toys were stupid.  Like who really ever wanted more than Aladdin and Jasmine?  Why would we want ALL the supporting cast of the ENTIRE movie?  Ok, I can see the Genie, maybe even Jafar, but the dad, the other dumb princes, the monkey, the rug?  No.  And that’s what our chickens thought, too.

Just feed us more than this little tin thing!  It only holds half a day of food!  We are gonna fill it with scratchy stuff to register our displeasure!  You need to change our living conditions! We aren’t happy!  We are fussy!  (I bet they didn’t ‘verbalize’ most of this consciously, but it was loud and clear to us just the same).

Another crisis solved, another bridge crossed, another milestone hurtles by, and we really are trying not to blink so we don’t miss anything.  They are beautiful now, and have distinctive feathering – the hanklets are off of two of them, but they each look so different we can keep them apart.

I promise pictures – (you’ll want to see the ‘cape’ on Albus).

The Shrug Off

Thunderstorms, while scary, are apparently survivable by suburban chicks.  The last few days have been blustery, with periods of plain old thunderstorm-y rain.  The first night of storms, I worried that the little gals would be ok.  You may know that I don’t hustle in the morning, under almost every circumstance (except those involving mortal personal and/or familial peril), so it may not be a surprise that I didn’t get up to go check on the girls any earlier than I ever do.  I do claim some credit for THINKING about going out to check on them, though, especially when awoken at 2 am-ish by the hard rain and thunder.  That morning they were fine.  Shell-shocked, but fine.  They wandered around the coop with the hesitant step of disaster survivors world-wide, much like the footage of Katrina, the tsunamis of the Pacific, or the tornado of Greensburg (STILL home of the world’s largest hand-dug well, even without the water tower proclaiming that accomplishment).

If we knew they’d reached teenage-hood-dom a few weeks ago when their feet got huge overnight, we got even more confirmation when Angie went out today to sit with them.  “They still love to eat out of my hand, and Barcelona (or Juevo, actually) puts her foot on my hand to steady it”, she said.  But when she tries to pick them up, they balk.  They like the hand-held food, they like when we sit and talk with them, but they don’t want Angie to pick them up and coo and cuddle them.  It’s just too intimate; see most teenagers in your life.  Our teenagers love (secretly, sometimes) the attention we show when we talk about friends, life, school plays, college plans, job prospects (ok, this one not so much).  They usually have a pretty low tolerance for actual physical displays of affection.  Our five teenage chickens are in much the same ‘space’ right now; it’s just awkward for them to stop what they are doing to receive hands-on love from Angie.

So, Ang got the “shrug-off”.  In humans, it’s one shoulder up and down rapidly, a tensing of the core muscles signaling discomfort (remember the picture of the German Chancellor – Angela Merkel? – tensing when GW Bush gave her two-second shoulder massage?), and a turning away of the face and eyes, indicating a wish to be somewhere else (Adam Sandler’s “happy place”).  In our little pullets (which only means ‘female chickens that haven’t laid eggs yet’), they got a little agitato (for you music people out there), a little scratch-y, and more verbal (in a bad way).  Not nearly as bad as when we tried to put the chickerchiefs on, but a clear set of nonverbals that said, “get the heck away from me”.  We ARE pleased that they don’t use serious cuss words yet.  We’ve tried to shelter them from the rougher edges of society – we aren’t sure if it is safe to tell them about different kinds of poultry yet, let alone other types of farm animals altogether.

Our dog, Kenzie, really wishes he could herd them around the yard!  Our idea is that once they get almost full grown, we will leave the coop gate open and let them scratch around the yard.  Now that they’ve lived there for almost a month, we hope they call those roosts in the coop home base, and when they think of a haven, they run back to the coop first.  Even chickens need a happy place, right?

Humble Pie

You know how sometimes you learn more from the audience you think you are educating? Any of you been a public speaker? Facilitator?  Teacher?  If so, then you know what I am about to confess.  Much like the days in the tropical rain forest of Papua New Guinea (north of the little pointy part of the island/continent that is Australia), when the Peace Corps office people asked us to “train” the next batch of volunteers, I learned how little I knew and how much wisdom the “new” people brought along with them.  Case in point – our little office building got robbed once; almost $600 dollars was taken so we hired two guys as overnight watchmen.  What ended up happening was we paid them to sleep on the property, next to a fire, and eat (yes, eat) freeze-dried coffee powder.  They didn’t patrol, or walk around, or catch anybody (partly cuz everyone is related to everyone else there) or stop any other lawless mayhem from happening.  When the “new” people took over for us, they took one look at THAT expense and said, “that’s gonna change”.  After thinking about being offended by what they said, I thought to myself, ‘yeah, that is a stupid expense’.

So, anyway, change is a good thing, and a little humility never hurt anyone either.

Steve.  Poor, maligned Steve.  He can’t read, so he isn’t as damaged as he ought to be by my last post, but that’s a mercy.  He had NO intention of causing an uprising or fomenting rebellion.  He merely conducted his chicken business all that day, and in the course of his chickening, his hanklet fell off.

Fell off.  He didn’t put it on the stick at all, let alone place it brazenly.  (Angie told me that she put it there so we could find it later to re-attach it.)  And now that I think about it, do animals do ANYTHING brazenly?  Maybe not.  Probably more of that elusive ‘personification’.  You English majors may need to help me out here.

So, like occasionally (maybe MORE than occasionally) in my actual human parenting life, what I thought was my finest hour (in putting the hammer down on Steve’s rebellion) turned out to be pretty shaky ground.  I do love to learn these lessons, but then again, humility?  From a chicken?  Who is barely a month old?

Here’s a cool thing.  I go out around sunset and fill the feeder for their morning, check the water, spread a little bit of bird seed around.  I believe this keeps them busy and engaged in the pre-dawn chill.  They cheep at me, in what can ONLY be fond tones, thanking me for food and water – which in chicken, means love.

Uprising!

Not as bad as the famous rebellions of history, today in the chicken coop was still notable because we may have to consider disciplining one of our little chicks.

Steve, perhaps in a fit of identity confusion, tore his hanklet off of his ankle and brazenly left it hanging on the roost made from a branch of the crabapple tree.  We thought we were clear with the girls when we told them it was for their own good – this identification scheme.  We asked them if they understood what we were saying.  Not if they agreed, not if they had a problem.  If they understood.

All five of them, Steve (the first to have been awarded the coveted hanklet, you may remember), Albus, Chollo, Barcelona, Juevo, ASSURED us they understood.  That there would be no problems.  That they would comply – complacently.

Hmmm.  We will let you know how the talk goes tomorrow morning.  We’ll get some things straight out there.  Tough love.

Chickerchiefs and Hanklets

Tagged chicks sulking in a roost box

Coop with color-coded Hanklets

We had our first brush with traumatic chicken injury yesterday.  It wasn’t so much actual injury, per se, but what we saw made us examine our hearts, search our souls, and choose between two awful options.  A cloud passed between us and the sun, and a bitter wind blew through the backyard as Angie approached me.

Easy, now.  I’m just kidding about all that portent of doom stuff.  Here’s the story:

I’d been decluttering the backyard from the harsh prairie winter, and she had in her hand, the promised scraps of bandanna – cut to place around the chick’s necks.  We excitedly crowded into the coop, Angie set up her ‘observation chair’ (a small white stool that we keep outside the coop so it remains poop-free), and I squatted on an edge frame board.  Ang had assigned bandanna colors to each a while ago, and had cut the bandannas to size.  Once these were placed around each of their necks, they’d be ready to rob banks – just like in Point Break (except for they were humans, and they wore ex-president masks).  Ok, just like in Butch and Sundance – without the bicycle scene and the girl on the handlebars.

So, we began the move to chick identification; all the good parts of labeling and categorizing without any of the trauma of making a group of residents wear identifying clothing.  We were determined not to repeat any awful parts of history.  Little did we know….

We decided to put Cholla’s on first.  I held her and Ang tied the bandanna around her neck, loosely so she could eat a ton (we already promised our ‘backyard-range chickens’ food on demand) and not get a blockage.  As I held her, she seemed a little agitated, but not crazy.  Once placed on the ground, though, she snapped.  She hopped backward in arcing bounces, snapping her neck the opposite way of the bounce – clearly trying to dislodge the bandanna.  This was primitive, atavistic behavior, dictated by that little tiny part of the chicken brain that runs survival.  No amount of calm, rational discussion or encouraging words from us helped.  We had no choice but to remove the bandanna.  No longer would our chicks have “chickerchiefs”.

We moved to our back-up phase:  “Hanklets”.  We thought we might have to place a bandanna around the ankle (in the event of hysterical fowl play).  Steve is the most mellow of all five of our chicks, so we chose him to start round two of identifying scraps of clothing.   As such, I gently lifted him up and secured his legs so he couldn’t thrash around.  (Note to you, the prospective chicken wrangler – hold the legs gently below the buffalo wing part of the leg, and wrap your other hand over the top of the wings and body.  This keeps them safe from harm.)  Angie then tied the scrap of bandanna to his (yes, she’s a she, but ya just can’t say ‘her’ about a Steve – counseling later, remember?) ankle.  We completed this whole operation without further ado and then Ang stapled pieces of bandanna to the frame of the coop with each name right by the color of bandanna “hanklet”.

Although the girls sulked most of the rest of the afternoon, they stayed well away from the hysteria range.  My offer of handheld thistle seed (Nyger seed, really. Can’t we just call it what it is?  Why does Nigeria care anyway?) went ignored.  And when I pleaded with them to “eat, eat, you’re skin and bones” they just sneered at me and turned their backs.  Clearly, the ‘trust account’ is empty right now.  But that’s ok; it hurt us more than it hurt them.  They’ll thank us later.  We know what’s best for them.

My bribes to Cassidy worked – and we have PICTURES!!!!!

Revisionist History

Yeah, so since the Sharpie (TM, inc., all rights reserved) has worn off of Albus’ head, we aren’t sure which RIR is which.  So we are gonna do what all good and victorious historians do; make it up. 

The little dudes are really growing now, and have spent three nights without the heat lamp on out in the coop.  I’ve put some branches in there and kind of wedged them in corners so they can climb around and act like wild reptilian ancestral birds – just like those little chicken-y dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.  You know, the ones that took chunks out of that one guy?  tiny little chunks?

Ok, that’s not the point.  The point is they are getting bigger and we are a little ‘fuzzy’ about which RIR is which.  So… Ang has bought bandannas for all five of them.  She is gonna cut them into little cowboy bandanna things and we are gonna put a color on each one so we can always keep track of them. 

The plan is then to put a scrap of the bandanna on a board that is fastened to the Bucket Coop (thanks, nancy, for suggesting we incorporate the Bucket into their coop) (plus there is a bucket list idea there, too) so anyone who visits can see who is whom (Mrs. Jacupke – is that the proper use of whom?).

We are currently in a “transitional videography” stage, so pictures are a challenge.  We have to enlist the help of either of our two still-residing scion to go out there, take a picture or two, and post them somewhere I can find them to add to this.  That will happen. Believe me.  I just may have to pay one of them to do it. 🙂

They are still supergood eaters and supergood poopers.  They are friendly when we come in and visit.  What more could we ask?

Blustery Day

I went out last night to make sure the kiddos were ok.  It was a hugely blustering day with winds up to 40 mph, first from the south, then from the north, then a series of gust fronts that somehow centered over the Wichita area.  It was as if the confluence of the Little and Big Arkansas rivers drew the interest of all the winds of the Great Plains, where they competed for supremacy.  Anyway, it was windy.

By the time I got home, it was dark and the temperature was near or south of 50F.  Not a big worry, but these little tykes (tykes when it is cold, teenagers when they are scrapping around in the washtub) aren’t fully feathered.  Silence greeted me when I pulled open the gate and murmured a hello.  Faint alarm bells sounded when I heard distant peeping.  Surely they weren’t OUT of the coop!  But, then again, a hazy National Geographic article memory assured me that animals will seek the safest shelter they can in times of crisis; be it bad weather, predators, heat, cold.

Scuffling in the hay for the end of the extension cord and the heat lamp cord, I didn’t panic.  Once plugged in, I could at least see a little bit to locate our downy denizens.  I know, the suspense is killing me too!  Not in any of the five brooder boxes, and not under the brooder boxes, I began to wonder if I should look outside the fence.  The peeping was off to my left.  They had taken up residence under the crosspiece of the ground frame – inside the coop.

All is well.

This morning they peeped cheerily (which my Mrs. Jacupke and Angie’s Mrs Otis would call “personification”) when I went back out to count beaks.  Still holding steady at five.  They know we bring food when we come out, and they crawl around our hands, let us hold them, and love us.  We can tell.

Move In Day

A perfect Easter Sunday has never before needed to include “move-in Day” for baby chicks, but now that we’ve done it once, we’re gonna have to make it a yearly thing.  Maybe every other year, cuz that makes 25 chickens in just 5 years.  That’s WAY over the city limits limit.  A limiting factor, you might say.  I stood around and scratched my head most of Saturday afternoon on the design, and then went out bright and early Sunday morning to finish putting the wire on the frame and putting the roofing boards up.  I wasn’t supposed to get sweaty so I could be nice and fresh for church, but I got sawdust all over me.

Let me tell you, when Cassidy brought the tub o’ chicks out into the fresh afternoon air, they were all like, “what the…”  We had waited until after Easter dinner – authentic Puerto Rican food thanks to Ang and her Mom, along with some grilled T-Bones and Tilapia.  We skipped chicken for this meal, even though we explained to the baby chicks that ‘sometimes bad things happen to good chickens, and that we would NEVER do anything like that to them’.  Now we just gotta keep our promise.

So, anyway, the big move in.  It was kinda like that one show, with The Reveal, except for the weepy new homeowners ( I held it together).  We tipped the washtub on its side slowly so the chicks could either hop out or slide out.  They DID love the hay, the few weeds left, the wood to scratch and peck at, and the fresh air.  They also loved the dog on the OTHER side of the wire, and, later, thanked us in their non-verbal way for turning the heat lamp back on overnight.  The threat of thunderstorms never materialized so they survived the first night with great elan.  We are proud of our little chickies – and love their positive outlook on all that new stuff.

OK – names.

Steve is a Rhode Island Red and has two darker stripes of fluff down his back, right at the edge of his wings.  He is a she, even though we call him Steve.  We will get him counseling later.

Juevo is a Barred Rock.  The chubbier of the two, and she has the most-developed tail feathers of the group.  They always are talking about it among themselves in the restroom. (they all go at the same time)

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian is a RIR, and Jacob put a “J” on her forehead with a sharpie.  That is the only way to tell the other two RIR’s apart.

Angie decided on Barcelona for the remaining Barred Rock.  It was a close vote, but in the end, there were more FB and text messages in support of that fine city of Espana.

Lastly, I named mine Cholla.  This is not like “choiya”, which is the cactus of the Southwest, but, rather, the feminine of “Choh low”, which CAN mean ugly hispanic urban gangster, but in this case means ‘little chick with sass and attitude’.

The sermon Sunday included a section on trying not to worry.  Good advice for new parents of outdoor babies.

Teenage Feet

Kenzie helping me build the chicken coop

Action shot while building the coop

Angie noticed that our little chick’s feet are just plain bigger today.  As she held them, she noticed their feet took up more of her hand, and we both noticed that they have warmer feet.  They are still in the washtub with the grass mat outer wall still attached – but they are ready to get out of the laundry room.  Restless.  They flip their wings, hop around, jump over each other, scritch around in the pine shavings.

I noticed today that they all took a nap at the same time.  They lay there just like we’ve seen our exhausted teens spend a whole afternoon recuperating from whatever stuff exhausts teenagers.  I’m sure the ‘chicken experts’ (whoever they are) would disagree with us and say something like “oh, no, you’re quite mistaken.  Pullets don’t hit the equivalent of their teen years until WELL after two point five months into their full-fledged lives”.  Yeah, well, those experts can jump in a lake.  We’ve got a tub full of teens on our hands.

I spent the day out in the yard, making up a chicken coop out of weathered cedar fencing and new pine 2 x 4’s.  I loved the puzzle-ness of this backyard project – and even Angie agrees the finished product is not a bit junky or crappy – looking.  I’ve attached some pictures of the early stages of creating the chicken neighborhood.  I think I can finish it in the morning before church, and if the weather stays nice, the girls can test it out tomorrow afternoon.

We’ve named them all!  Stand by for that exciting ‘reveal’ tomorrow.  Oh, and I totally wore my overalls to Home Depot to get the wood and some other junk!  Special dispensation to wear the overalls OFF THE PROPERTY.  I was stoked.