And a Duck for Good Measure

Seriously – I resisted the Tractor Supply Vortex of cute chicks and ducklings for WEEKS. 

But, let’s be honest, I’ve never been happy with the relationships we’ve built with our current hens. Standoff-ish. Distrustful. Crabby. I get that friendship takes WORK, but c’mon – all we DO is feed them and protect them. Gratitude much??

I bought 4 pullets – 2 white leghorn, 2 brown leghorn – today and have them all set up in the shed. 

And a duckling for good measure. 


Our Silver-Laced Wyandotte hen died yesterday.  She had been in the nesting box when I went out to get eggs the evening before, which was odd.  I told her at the time that I was taking the eggs because I did not want her to get broody.  They will do that if we leave eggs in there for a few days; instinctively they want to hatch the eggs that are there.  At the time, she was warm and calm.  They are always calm at night time.

The next morning when I went to open the coop, she was in the nest box still, but her head drooped over the edge – eyes closed, unresponsive, cold

I double-bagged the body and disposed of it (her), with little ceremony but with respect.  The other three hens seem healthy and do not show signs of missing her.

I’m sorry, little chicken, I hope your life with us was ok.  I hope you are in a happy place.

International Residents Arrive!

No more strictly “garden variety” chickens for us.  We loved our Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks, but this time…

We’ve expanded our clientele!

Off of a craigslist ad (where you can seriously trade almost anything – in this case we traded money for pullets), we bought 4 young hens to re-start our “chicks in a bucket” project.

Halley, a Golden Comet breed, is the most adventurous of the 4, and one of only 2 who would come out for a picture.

Golden Comet Chicken

We haven’t named our Silver-Laced Wyandotte yet, although the breed hails from New York state, so we’ll be on the lookout for a good name when we go visit the Niagara Falls next weekend.

Silver laced Wyandotte

We’ve named one of the secretive Araucanas Arborio.  We believe this breed, sometimes called Americaunas or Easter Eggers, was first raised by the Incans and lay either blue-, green-, or pinkish-shelled eggs.  Which explains their shy nature – they are used to hiding in or around mountains, and since we don’t have any in the coop, they are just staying hidden under the low boards of the coop.

The jury is still out on what killed our other hens.  I have a live trap set – two nights running the critter has eaten the bait food and not sprung the trap.

And the little hens are in the coop all the time now.  We will let them roam the yard when they are bigger, and no sooner than when we get back from our trip to New York and Canada.  We just don’t want to worry about them while we aren’t home, no matter how far away we are.

Welcome, little friends! Bienvenido al cul-de-sac!

Death Comes to the Cul-de-Sac

Early this morning, our three hens lost a battle with some wild animal.  Killed for some visceral reason, yet left mostly intact.  I found two of them outside both the fenced in chicken yard and outside our 6 foot cedar fence, too.  Whatever killed them dragged two of them over a 4 foot wire fence, and either over the wooden privacy fence or out the gate that was open only a few inches.

I only noticed after I had gotten the grass trimmer out of the shed and looked over to see a chicken on her back.  She wasn’t moving.  They often take dirt baths so this wasn’t an odd position to see them in, but it was odd that she wasn’t moving.  I said, “Hey!”, because maybe they hadn’t heard me come out.  No such luck.

I had been leaving the door to the coop open overnight so they could enjoy the long evenings and the early mornings.  I don’t get up nearly as early as the sunrise these days, and I hated to make them stay cooped up.  I guess that’s where we get that expression from, isn’t it?

I guess cooped up, in the big picture, would have been better for them.  I don’t pretend to understand the pitiless nature of the wild, but I really should have believed Jack London – he was ALWAYS writing about the relentless pursuit of predators.  I just didn’t think it would reach all the way into our patch of land.

Even so, “It was not judgment day; only morning, excellent and fair.”  William Styron, from “Sophie’s Choice”.

Clipping their Wings

We love that our hens get to run around the yard, even though we only let them into about 1/3 of it – with the new garden fencing.  Well, it’s not new; we did it last spring.  I may have mentioned it before.

I finally found incontrovertible proof that they were escaping the limitations that I’d decided were healthy for them.  They don’t know what’s good for them.  They don’t know what dangers are out there. They don’t see the big picture.  I don’t want them getting into things that could hurt them, or confuse them, or cause bother to me.

One of them had gotten into the habit of flying on top of the coop, then flying down off the roof into the yard outside the chicken yard.  After roaming the backyard for awhile, she would then fly back on to the roof and back into the fenced yard.  I only noticed her doing this after it was, clearly, a habit.  She didn’t know any better; no one had told her that it was verboten.  I then mentioned it – but again, clearly, she was in no mood to follow my rules.

It wasn’t a problem until the OTHER 3 hens started to follow her.  It was a veritable posse of unruly lawlessness.  Anarchy.

I had to take drastic measures that I’d only previously read about in the chicken book.  I had to clip all of their ‘flight feathers’ so they couldn’t fly.  Never seen it done, nor had I had to do it to our first batch of layers.

Although it was for the best, faint tendrils of loss still lurk in the corners of my mind, if not also theirs, because I have taken from them the heady liberty that taunts them through the fence.  “Banis Waia”, or “banish wire”, is what we called it over in the jungle, in pidgin.  It was used to banish animals to one side or another.  Liberty through banishment – is there such a thing?

Paul Dunbar writes of it ( Maya Angelou uses the first line as the basis for the beginning of her autobiography) in his poem, “Sympathy”:

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings.

Our hens know about this, and that’s why we love them so much.

Separated from Water

After almost 3 years as a chicken wrangler, I thought I’d pretty much seen our hens at their best and worst.  I know when they are agitated and when they are serene.  I know how they react to dusk, dawn, thunder, lightning, hail, snow, sleet, and sunshine.  By the way, a leaf rake agitates them a TON more than lightning (they just stand around), or hail (they just keep skritching through the yard), or thunder (not their issue).  If they have their basic needs met, they are truly unflappable.  (And yes, I DO think “pun intended” there.)

However, one day a few weeks ago, I tried an experiment with their water supply.  Since it was such a lovely set of days, I set their 5-gallon gravity-fed water container out in the chicken yard, as opposed to in the actual chicken coop.  The girls were out wandering in the chicken yard all day anyway, and they could just swing by the water out in the bright sunlight to sip at their leisure.

At night, as is their wont, they put themselves to bed on the roost in the coop.  I always go out at dusk or dark to shut the door to the coop.  We’ve never had a problem with predators bothering the hens, but there is a pesky possum (or an ornery opossum – depending what your level of ‘animal labeling puritanism’ is) that comes into the coop and eats the layer pellets.

Rather than move the water back in to the coop, I decided to leave it in the yard and remember to go out first thing and let them back out so they could get a drink early in the morning.  Although I DID go out in the morning, it wasn’t first thing, and they’d gotten thirsty without any recourse.  One of them had pecked into one of the eggs they’d already laid that morning – I guess thinking there was liquid there.  That egg was ruined.  This is the only time – except for the deformed eggs that Steve had been laying for quite some time; those also got pecked, but that was because the shell hadn’t been completely formed – that our hens had tampered with the product of their biological imperative.

I betrayed them.  They trusted me to care for them.  Really, they only ask me for food, water, a place to lay, and a place to sleep.  I learned this:  CARE for your people, your charges, your tribe, your flock.  Commit.  And try not to make excuses when you let them down.

Not til you’re 12, son…

You remember that part in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (the one with Gene Wilder)?  Where TeeVee Mike’s dad says, “Not til you’re 12, son”, in response to Mike’s question about getting a 12 gauge?   That’s why I title this like I did.

The new hens want to sleep on top of the shed.  The one that’s 12 feet in the air, and allows access to the neighbor’s yard, and our front yard, and offers absolutely no protection from raccoons or owls overnight.  They’d started sleeping up there while I was up in Oshkosh.  I noticed it the first night I was home, so the next day I took out all the intermediate flight surfaces that they could use to get up there.  I basically took out the dog pen and fence.

Next night I went out and, sure enough, they were up there again.  So I used a branch to get them down and put them in the proper chicken coop.

I’m just not ready for them to have that much freedom!!!  They have to sleep in their coop like all good hens should.  So now I put them to bed around an hour before sunset.  I have to click the sticks and herd them to the coop.

They don’t like it; but it’s best for them.

New Eggs!!

Angie is at home while I’m up here in Oshkosh at the airshow, and she and Ethan are taking care of our 4 new chickens.  It’s been brutally hot for the last really month or so, but chickens stay alive in whatever weather they are put in.

Angie said she GOT TWO EGGS YESTERDAY out of our nest box!!!

So THAT’S pretty exciting.  No video footage yet, but here is a picture of the two new eggs in our “Amsterdam Carton”.

International; that’s what we do.

New Hens – new world

We have moved the new chickens in!!!

I am happy to say that the original five hens we had have been transplanted to a farm out in Cheney, with friends of ours.  They have a low-stress life filled with a menagerie of animals: peacocks and peahens, dogs, cats, turkeys, ducks, chickens, and something called a turken or duckery, or duckern, or something like that.  It’s a mix of a bunch of birds.

Anyway – we have 4 lovely young pullets in the back yard now.  Two Rhode Island Reds, and two something else I have to look up again to make sure about.  They are all brown and tan and will lay brown eggs.

Ethan is home from Germany – he said he doesn’t mind going out there to check on them everyday, and Ang is good about looking in on them, too.  It’s nice to have some action back there in the backyard again.  We gave away the original 5 about a month ago, and we had to let Kenzie slip into dogheaven a few weeks ago.  Poor little guy – not healthy and not fixable.

VIDEO TO FOLLOW!!!  “PULLETS OUST HENS IN FOWL TAKEOVER!!”  Sure to be a hit on all the news cycles.

Baby chicks aren’t babies anymore!!

Our neighbors, who also now have a chicken coop, are raising one or two hens for us along with their crop (didja get that pun? it’s early in the post for them) of chicks.  They’ve BUILT their coop, and MOVED their chicks into the coop!  I went over during the construction phase, but haven’t been to see the finished product.  They chicks have mostly sprouted feathers, and have outgrown the box they started in.  Also, my neighbors report, their “odor” has outgrown the basement – especially with the heat lamp providing lots of, well, heat, to make all that ‘chicken’ more aromatic.  So it was time to move them.

As a matter of fact, I remember 2 years ago when we moved ours out, it was right around Easter.

Anyway, it is ALMOST TIME to move 2 new chicks/pullets into our posh quarters.  I wonder what the adults will do?

Hope they welcome them with open wings!