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?

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After The Storm

Our Garden

Never a more perfect time to spring the girls from the clink than after the tornado sirens stopped wailing this afternoon.  I spent the alert over at the airport terminal basement, waiting for the horror movie to start in that dank, drafty, people-packed, adrenaline-tinged space.  It was like Titanic where all the exits are blocked by a fence or gate; freedom visible but unattainable.  It really was fine, but had possibilities for trouble.

By the time I got home, the sun was bright in the late afternoon sky, the chickens were done cowering in the roost boxes, and they weren’t that impressed with the cast-off spinach leaves I dumped in their coop.  I went to get Ang and we decided today was a perfect day to let them out.

“Error saving media file”.  That’s why you don’t see the riveting video of them stepping first gingerly, then carefully, then gleefully around the backyard.  That is 4 minutes of your life that I saved you; you are welcome.  Ah, but someday, you will be forced to watch them walk around the backyard.  Just count on it.

Herding them back into the coop with our two bamboo sticks made me feel very Asian, as in taking ducks to the market which is a day’s walk from my home village where my people have lived for 5 generations and raised rice in paddies.  Just read “This Good Earth”, by Pearl Buck, you’ll know what I mean.

The sun always shines after the storm, doesn’t it?

Our Recalcitrant Jalapeno

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?

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.