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”.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.