It takes a Village

We have begun raising our next generation of chickens.  We are doing it remotely this time (the “Village” reference in the title)(No charge).  At this writing, our neighbors are raising six – of which two will come over to our coop when they’ve fledged.  We also MAY have one or two chicks being raised with a bunch out by the Ninnescah River by some other new chicken farmer friends of ours.

Is this a little like waiting for a baby we can adopt?  I am almost certain that “human” baby adoption is a way more serious undertaking, and the stakes are a lot higher.  And I so don’t mean to lessen the amazing blessings that people receive when they adopt.  So please, hold your hate mail.  I only mean love and peace when I wonder about this waiting we are doing for our new chickens.

What will they look like?  What coloring will they have?  Will they be cheery like the girls we have now?  Will they let me reach under them to gather eggs?

What this means, though, when I say we are getting a new generation of chickens, is that eventually, later this summer, we will be “relocating” some of our veteran layers.  Steve, almost certainly, has been laying disfunctionally for most of the winter and still this spring.  It’s sad, really.  His crooked beak prevents him from eating right, getting oyster shell into his crop, or from eating the bugs and other nutrients he needs for the shell to be strong enough to not collapse.  The only way to get him his nutrition is to use a dropper several times a day.  I’m not that committed – even though I feel a LITTLE guilty about that.

I DO, however, need to CONFIRM that Steve is the one laying the “bad eggs”.  The one egg, about every third day, has a collapsing shell that the other hens eat.  All that is left is a wet spot from the inside of the egg, which messes up the hay in the nest box, and is also gross.  Plus, it’s gross that the hens are eating eggshell for breakfast.  I’ve lectured them… to no avail.  They refuse to modify their behavior.  We may have to go to a penalty/star system.  One star for laying an egg that day.  One penalty check for eating eggshell or NOT laying an egg.

 I hate to think about the changing of the guard.  But potentially 9 chickens is too many to keep in our modest backyard apartment.  I have several farmer friends who can keep our “older” hens. 

I also found out from reading the paper that I should have a permit for “more than 3” hens in a “backyard coop”.  So I need to find the issuing office of that type of permit.

Almost fully feathered

2 pictures of the hens out scritching in the yard.  Our fans were CLAMORING for photographic evidence that all 5 hens still flourished in the backyard.

Chola, Steve, and Albus

 

Chola re-feathered

Pitiful and Flightless

Oh, my gosh.  You remember that we named the hens way back when?  And Cassidy got to name one black one Juevo, and I named the other black one Chola?   http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=chola  Yeah, well ONE of those (we’ve since forgotten exactly how to tell the two apart) went through a good thorough MOLTING.  Like the Phoenix in Harry Potter.  Like the “apteryx” in the BC comic strip.  Poor little thing; she just looked AWFUL.

Her neck was all skin, with little tiny sprigs of new feather poking out haphazardly.  Like 2-day-old growth on an old guy, shuffling around Wal-mart, wondering where those orange candy peanut bags are.  Just pitiful.

I went out today to let them out (the chickens, not the orange peanut candy – or the old guys, for that matter) (I’ve been WAY more conscious of their coopdom ever since that McDonald’s egg supplier story came out) and she was afraid to fly out off the roost in the coop.  Her flight feathers hadn’t grown back in yet, and she wasn’t sure she could fly all the way out of the coop to the ground (a total of about 3 feet).  She told me all this telepathically, btw.  Her wings did look about 30% smaller than normal, even though her neck feathers had mostly sprouted back into real feathers.

Hens, while they are molting, do not lay any eggs.  All their energy conversion goes into feather-making, and not egg-making.  So while they look like total crap walking around our backyard (which would be the ONLY reason our otherwise-pristine backyard would look Okie), they aren’t contributing to our livelihood, and we STILL have to feed them.

Now, though, she looks better and is on the road to recovery.  Matter of fact, one of the eggs I gathered today was really small, and I’ll bet it was her first one after the molt.  It was as if she was telling us, “See? Just give me a minute to recover from that hell; it’ll be worth it.”

And how can you say no to that?

Winter Quarters

You know how Sacagawea and Lewis and Clark finally decided at some point to stop for the winter and quit hiking?  They looked at each other somewhere in the Dakota Territory or Montana (or whatever THAT was before it was Montana) and said, “dang, it’s gettin cold up here! Maybe we should build a fire and get some firewood and food and hole up until Spring?!”

Well, we’re not explorers, nor have we built a fire.  But that’s not to say that suburbia (I’ve warned you before!) isn’t fraught with danger.  You’ve got to keep a weather eye on things so you aren’t caught by surprise by the bad stuff the world can throw at you.

All I’m really saying is that a week or two ago I put the winter boarding up on the chicken coop.  I also cleaned out the crappy hay (literally) (pun intended), and used most of a fresh bale of hay (straw really) (cuz they don’t need nutrition out of the hay – otherwise I’d NEED to buy straw) for the girls to scritch around the coop.

Also, I’ve been reading my chicken resource book, “The joy of keeping chickens: The ultimate guide to raising poultry for fun or profit”, by Megyesi.  That book says the hens need only 1 box per 5 hens as a laying box.  We built the coop with 5 boxes – one for each hen.  Our thinking was this would be an UPSCALE coop, a desirable property, the sought-after zip code.  All it really did was make 4 unused boxes, and me climb past the hanging feeder, around the waterer, under the roosting 2 x 4, and into the last box on the right – the least convenient box out there.

I removed 4 of the boxes and put only one roosting box right straight back from the door.  Easy for me to step in the coop (only one step which makes poop avoidance easier) and retrieve the eggs.

I haven’t covered the door with the winter wood yet.  It’s not too cold and they get so bored in there with nothing to look at.

A chicken’s gotta dream, right?

So much more than “same-old-same-old”

So I get a question now and then about why I never post anything to the “Chickens in a Bucket” blog anymore. ‘Well,’ I say, either scratching my beardy stubble or scuffing my foot, ‘the chickens don’t do anything INTERESTING anymore. They just scratch around, eat food, drink water, and lay eggs.’

But that really is true of ALL of us, isn’t it? If you take out the things we do during the day that give our lives meaning.  If you take away my trip to Oshkosh, Angie’s work with seniors at the gym (ask her sometime about the MULTIPLE people she has trained that no longer need surgery because of her), our kids’ summer projects, jobs, goals, accomplishments – then all WE did all summer was eat, sleep, earn and spend money.

These faithful, trusting, dependable chickens are friendly every day we go out there.  They lay eggs as often as their little bodies can make them.  They never hold out for better food or more bugs or more time out of the coop.  They never fuss about how hot it was for 28 days in a row.  They never gripe about the hay in their water.

Five ordinary hens – exhibiting extraordinary dedication and zeal to living to the fullest of what life has to offer them.

I read a blog just a few minutes ago from a friend who is in remission from cancer; determined to joyfully pursue her bucket list.  She wants the list complete before the cancer has a chance to come back.  If SHE can blog about life-changing stuff, then surely I can tell you that our chickens are still happy.

Even crooked-beak Steve.  All five of the “backyard gang of 5” are the best there is – at least in our little world at the end of the street in the middle of the Great Plains.

No new brothers and sisters for the “Gang of Five”

I’ve decided that we are going to have to withstand the temptation of the new little chicks at Tractor Supply this year. I want to get a few Auracanas, or Amuaricanas, just to spice things up. They supposedly lay a ‘rainbow-colored’ egg. But I’ve yet to see one. City ordinance limits a “domicile” to no more than 6 hens, and we already have 5. I’d hate to add just one little chick, because of the loneliness factor, and that would put us in VIOLATION of city ordinance. Which, honestly, wouldn’t be that big of a deal, except if I am going to fight City Hall, it’s not gonna be on that hill. I’d much rather tussle with them over trash hauling, or sewage rates (who’s gonna gripe about paying someone to flush poop away?), or even whether I should park my trailer in the yard or beside the yard or on the street or in the driveway.

But, see, in the world of us chicken farmers, every little dollar counts. And if we go buy some of those rainbow egg layers, then we gotta go buy chick starter/crumble. We gotta go buy chick-sized oyster shell. We gotta get the tub out of the shed and set it up in the laundry room again. We gotta set up the heat lamp again. We gotta get the sawdust out again. The water thingy again. We gotta name ‘em. We gotta make more chickerchiefs for them. Wait a minute; I think I am talking us back into buying some baby chicks. I better stop trying to convince ourselves that this isn’t a moneymaker.

The chickens helped me roto-till the garden the other day. It’s warm enough in south-central Kansas to get the garden ready, and I’ve been throwing the winter’s poop-laden hay on the garden plot. I figure as long as that stuff is under the soil, it will eventually help the ground. In Papua New Guinea, we’d say, “long mekim giraun kirap nogut na givim strong igo long ol plant”. Or something close to that – “klostu liklik ol toktok bilong ol gaden”. Mipela no inap ‘expert’ tasol mipela igat sampela save long groim ol gaden plant nabaut”. What I mean to say is, “We aren’t garden experts but we have some knowledge about how to grow stuff in the gardens”.

Anyway, good help is hard to find, but our Gang of Five are quality help. They are always happy to go the extra mile to get any loose bugs, or seeds, or earthy morsels cleaned up just for us. I wonder if they could use a couple more helpers?

Warm Red Glow

I put a heat lamp in the coop during last week’s Nation-wide blizzard and cold snap.  It was the same heat lamp that kept them warm as little chicks in the tub in the laundry room.  I wonder if they recognized it.  “Hey, that warm red glowy thing is back!  Hooray! It reminds me of when I was little”.  Or maybe, *old codger speaking from a rocker on the porch* “This light reminds me of when I was just a young whippersnapper, fresh out of the egg, and in some infernal tin thing that had a bunch of sawdust in it”.

They appeared to weather the cold and snow without any problems at all.  The wind was strong enough, though, that I brushed snow off of the feeder several times over the course of the 2-day maelstrom.  You know how I left about 2 inches of wire only right below the roof?  I was worried that any heat the chickens generated would escape right out of that gap.  That may have happened, but they still were ok.  I haven’t unplugged the heat lamp yet, and I am gonna leave it at least through this week – temperatures are forecast below zero later this week.  That’s cold for the Kanza Prairie.

Big news!  I bought a 1-quart pail to put the pullet-sized crushed oyster shell in for them to ingest in order to aid digestion.  For their crop.  Which is a body part, not a thing planted then harvested then sold. Even though it’s the same word. 

I went out late one night for a final roost check and found a late-laid egg.  Frozen.  It had blown the end off of the egg.  Like those compression eruptions they show on “Ice Road Trucker”.  We kept the egg but put it in a bowl rather than with of the rest of the uncracked eggs.  Separate but equal.  Even though we may never eat that one.

Wierd but true, that little tiny egg from several months ago?  Still in the bowl in the fridge – waiting for me to do the “blow out all the gunk and make a beautiful craft project” project.  That may never happen, either.

As usual, the girls are serene through all of this.  They are complete – just being hens.

Protection

So I went out the other night to put the dog away, which I usually do between 9 and 11 pm. Kenzie always comes up to the sliding glass door to the backyard when I open it, because we like to talk and stuff. I heard him trot for the door when I opened it, but noticed the sound was coming from a different part of the yard than his pen.

I also noticed that the door to the chicken coop was wide open. This was odd because I am usually the sole wrangler for the day, and I know I’d kept the door shut in the morning. As a matter of fact, I’d texted Jacob to ask him to get the eggs from the roost boxes. It was a cold day and I’d gone to the gym and work already – but didn’t want the eggs to freeze before I got home after dark. I surmised that when Jacob had gotten the eggs, he left the coop door open so the chickens could run around, which is very normal me to do.

There was no harm done, even though I do worry about critters getting into the coop after dark; there is still some animal that occasionally poops on the roof of the coop. So I know there is something wishing it could eat the chickens. Once I walked over to the coop with my flashlight it all became clear to me.

It turns out Kenzie was sleeping in the hay of the chicken coop. I believe that he knew they’d feel safer, he’d feel warmer, (although he has the same kind of hay and a similar wind-free zone in his pen), he’d be less lonely. But most of all, I believe he knew the chicken’s safety mattered to ME, and he loves me so he took it upon himself to protect my stuff.

Still learning. Even (maybe especially) from my dog.

Paternal Love

We left town for the weekend to visit Angie’s parents. The boys has to stay here in Wichita central cuz of their jobs, so they were in charge of the animals. There a lot of little things that the dog and chickens need – it’s not very time-consuming, but it’s necessary. I didn’t worry; the boys have run stuff before. They know what they are doing.

All the same, I was happy to get home and see my little dog and see my 5 chickens. 5 eggs, faithfully laid. I filled their food up, and stood there a moment watching them eat. I’m not sure if I or the chickens were more fulfilled. It’s a pretty cool feeling, that’s all I know.

insulation

a word about insulation: seriously, our chickens think that the foam insulation i put in the coop a month or two ago will keep them warmer IN their bodies rather than sandwiched in the walls.

maybe i shouldn’t have used the word “sandwich” when i described the winterizing chore to the chooks. they got hungry, i guess.

so, now, the winter wind whistles through the gaps in the cedar fence and then gently flaps the scraps of foil (that used to cover the insulation) inside the coop.

they seem to be warm – so i’m not gonna worry about it.

Happy New Year!