Knock knock.  Housekeeping!I came to clean the coop a little late in the afternoon.  There were a number of hens retiring early.  They reluctantly cleared out for me to pull out the thick mat of old hay and start a fresh layer.

Then, as usual, I got some assistance and supervision.  You put this here for me to stand in, right?

I’ll just have a look at your work here before you go.  The hens all grouped up on the roof of the chickeries.Meanwhile the guineas are inspecting the bath house.  They love a good dirt bath. And the new girls don’t mind a dip either.  Cheeks coming through.

Sick chicken

There’s a sick chicken (or maybe not sick, just elderly).

A couple of days ago:Comb gone limp and discoloured, and that characteristic no-neck stillness, like a semi-sleep.Or a whole sleep.

This is an old chicken.  There are still older chickens around, because I still have a few with chopped beaks (- what an awful thing), but she’s an elderly lady, as far as hens go.

Today: Comb almost completely flopped and pale, her wings are slumping down instead of held up on her back, and she’s hunched up into herself, dozing in the coop.

Sometimes hens come out of a state like this, perk up and return to business as usual, but most likely she’s approaching her departure.

This is how the hens go around here, except a couple unlucky ones that seem to get got by predators every year.  They enjoy a long retirement, and then they withdraw, drift into this less and less conscious pre-death state, and take themselves to the dark coop for the final sleep. Watching them go, it seems like the transition from life to death is long and smooth, not at all a single moment.

I find them stiff in the coop in the morning, sometimes stretched out, sometimes with their head tucked under their wing.

I think this is the best possible chicken way to go.  It seems natural and restful, but it’s hard to be sure.  They don’t look to me like they’re in pain, but I wish I knew.

*She completed her transition overnight


Cheeks is eating hay.   Consuming it, like a cow.    I got some new hay bales and she’s up on one, picking it apart and eating the hay.  Like spaghetti. You got a problem with me eating hay?!  I didn’t think so.

Cheeks has turned out to be a bit bossy, and quite a loner.  She doesn’t have a little hen clique; not that I’m sure how important that is to chicken mental health. I was hoping that she would make friends with Puffcheeks, one of her kind and a distant relation.  But not so far.  Puffcheeks has been sticking to the Barred Rocks she knows.

It appears that Phillippe Petit came out on top, as he is still playing guardian to the new girls.  Particularly pompously, I might add.  He’s very important now.  It’s good to see him food clucking and surveying his domain, though.  I like him and want him to turn out well.

New girls on the block!

Got some new additions to the Poultry Palace last night.  A few retiring Barred Rocks and one Ameracauna (I’m running a chicken rest home after all).  They went in the coop after dark in the evening and came toddling out this morning, curious and tentative.

The guineas were hilarious, peeking from behind hay bales and furtively scuttling behind to circle the new bird(s) and examine them from all angles.

The big surprise was Phillippe Petit, immediately fixing on pretty Puffcheeks (the brown bearded lady on the right), and then clearly deciding that these new girls were his to look after.


In the morning, the new girls were all most comfortable in the corner behind the hay bales.

Philippe has never felt so important, and is clearly coming down off his tightrope and roostering up to taking on some responsibility. She looks like she’s about to adjust his feathers for him (the equivalent of brushing some lint off his lapel). Here comes Stew, sniffing around.  Cue the battles.

Now that Jack is gone, the three young Chanticleer (full size) roosters are sorting themselves out, and HW reported Petit and Stew were Thunderdoming it in the afternoon.  Bloody combs all around.  A shock, because Philippe has never engaged another roo, and all of a sudden, he’s in the ring?  He’s taking this seriously.

Also, last night while I was inciting drama anyway by adding hens, I elevated two roosters from the frat house to the big coops, where I want them to integrate and take charge of some hens.  I put Toffee in with the new hens and Brahmas, and Petit in with the Colonel and layers, because that was how I thought they would work out.  They usually turn out to have other ideas.  HW found Toffee back in the boys dorm and Petit posted outside the new girls coop (of course).  He’s committed.  He saw them go in there.

The Pufftail stage

Three little chicks.  See how they drink. This is the pufftail stage. They’re still in the chickery with Mom (now in the slightly larger chickery), and they’ve graduated from the cardboard box and the nightly flight in to the house.

The other chicks, the two dwarves, have graduated up to the girls only fort.  The sisters are not as accepting of the two dwarves (they soon need better names).  Perhaps they are roosters.  But their mother, Snow White, decisively declared she was done with child care by flying out of the chickery.  I thought it might be a fluke and put her back in.  She let me know it was not an accident, she was moving on to the next phase of her life and chicks weren’t a part of it.

I love it when they tuck head under wing. Real birds.

I tried putting her in the fort too but she just paced the fence.  She had a boyfriend on the outside.   Straight back in the nesting box. In other news, Lucky Stewie is a reformed rooster.  He’s been on his best behaviour.

Close call for Stewie

The rooster formerly designated as “Stew” got a reprieve today.   Jack the Jerk went in the pot, and is missed by absolutely no one.  He was just a menace whose mission in life was to disturb the peace.  GH world is much happier now.But Stew was also scheduled for demise due to bad behavior.  We wrangled him up, but I couldn’t pull  the trigger on him because I have a soft heart and he doesn’t know any better.  He’s young.  He had bad role models.believe he had a bit of an attitude adjustment, too, after a protracted period of being hung by the feet while his future was under debate.  I cried.  He watched, passive, one alert eye watching the discussion. It’s hard.  One strong rooster who is aggressive ruins the atmosphere for everyone else.  The hens are on edge, the other roosters are looking over their shoulder.  Roosters have a role – a very important role in a free-range flock that I always advocate for – roos are on constant lookout for threats, they “herd” and keep track of all the ladies, and they announce food discoveries.   Good strong roosters who do these things are priceless.  But when a rooster doesn’t do these things, he’s a liability.

Amazingly, he’s not afraid of me, even though I helped catch him hours earlier. Anthropomorphizing is a fine line, but animals often act “as if” they know quite a lot more than they are generally assumed to.

In the end, I decided I’d do the work of putting him on Kijiji and rehoming him, because he’s very good-looking and still might do very well elsewhere.  So he was returned to the GH, and by all appearances, is much subdued and has a new perspective after his near-death experience.   We’ll see if he sleeps that off.

The Poultry Palace is palpably more peaceful now.

Since I don’t eat them, and don’t think of them as meat, or a farm product, birds here get to live long good lives, and get executed only as a greater-good calculation.  Farm animal death ethics is something I mean to write more about.  Not today.  Today, I feel good about Jack being gone, and also good about a second chance for Stewie.

Will they or won’t they?

So far, so good.  The bees are still alive.

This winter with its crazy yoyo temperatures has to be hard on them, but they are still humming in there.  Hope they can make it. I can’t open and feed them again yet.

I lost the big hive, my original hive, quite suddenly at the end of last summer, and these, the new bees, didn’t have long to get established, and God forbid, they may have been infected with the crisis from the other hive.  But so far, they’re ok.  I’m tense about it.This is two bees at the upstairs door, walking around on the tarpaper the hive is wrapped with.  On warm enough days, a few come out walking around or flying.

Private dirt bath

Yay, the little girls are using their private dust bath, and enthusiastically.  I saw at least three poofy heads in there from the outside, but I didn’t interrupt. This, incredibly, is Yin.  So big already. Another sunny day, and even if it’s cold outside (it wasn’t, very), it’s balmy inside.  The dust pool is keeping everyone out of trouble.  I brought lunch in today and the air was filled with a fine mist like humidity, but it wasn’t mist, it was dust.  Everyone must be thoroughly dusted by now. This one just had her feet vaselined, and she is not ready to forgive and forget that I totally messed up her leg feathers.  

Now that’s a chicken bathtub

Here we go.They’re over the privacy stage.  They don’t even get out for food sometimes.  Even the guineas.I can walk the perimeter and shake out my neck. (She’s got pool-edge walking skills)

Cheeks is thinking about it.
Cannonball! Cannonball!

They get SO dirty.Why?  Why is this a thing?  They clearly experience great pleasure at it, and I fail to see the appeal.There’s King David having a looksee.Jack appears to still have a little modesty.How many chickens are here? (Three)

What do they say about jacuzzis?  Seats X?  This tub “seats eight”, so far.  I think once they finish off the bale, it could “seat” 14.  That’s a lot of happy chickens.

Sow it begins

The first seed starts of the year: celery.  They’re even a little bit late.

Celery is so delicate.  The teeny starts can either wilt in seconds without water, or fry in the sun, fragile until they’re a rather ripe old age.  Two years running I’ve managed to roast the baby celeries when they were the size of threads, and restarting takes forever – such long germination – but I got a late celery crop nonetheless and it was decent.  Amazing that a big clump of celery grows from one pinhead seed.

Next up, onions.

No Boys Allowed

Yin ad Yang and the Sisters are now in protective custody.  They have their own fort in a corner.  Girls Only!Yin and Yang are turning out to both be hens (so Yang is awkwardly named), and I witnessed a rude roo trying to mate them.  I couldn’t believe my eyes! They may be old enough, but they are definitely not big enough, so I’ve put a stop to that, quarantining the whole clique so they can be relaxed and safe.  The Sisters are even too small to be assaulted. They seem pleased.  No more harassment.  They are sitting up on their favorite hay bale exactly as they always did (these four are so sweet.  I want them perfectly relaxed and happy).  Even though they now have all the essential chicken amenities in their fort, including a private bath, they just sit on the hay bale all day.

Nothing brings chickens together like a bath

This time, a hay bath.  Their idea – I haven’t seen them do this before, but I guess it was a hay bath kind of day.  The hay is thick there, where they took apart a bale.  They’re not trying to go through it to the dirt, just enjoying the hay.  Weirdos.In the background, the guineas are working on taking apart the next bale.Chicken yoga.  Name the asana.  I dare you.Hay baths are very relaxing. Well, the Silkie hens are done for now…On second thought, maybe one more dip. More are joining now.  The participants are changing.Excuse me, coming through, guineas coming through. That one in the middle is so comfortable.  Just curling up like a chick. What?  Real roos don’t take baths?


Why do the Juncos go under the house?

The snow is thin and light and perfect for showing the tracks of hopping song birds. Bird crop circles.  Why the interest in these small stumps?  (view from our upper deck) The Juncos are a mystery.  They like to go under our house.   They even fly in, zooming under the window, and their footprints tell a story of great interest in the space under our house.

Why?  We have only two theories.  That they are getting grit from the bare dirt under the house for their little bird gizzards, or that they are taking seeds under there with them, to eat them where they are not standing in the snow.  And why just the Juncos?

Meanwhile in the GH, work has started on the dirt bath bale.  They are secretive about it though, almost as though they think they’re being naughty, and I haven’t caught anyone in the act.Except this guinea.  Just leaving!  So it might be the guineas.But it’s getting hollowed out.

New dirt bath

Credit to the Chicken Chick – a recent post said to give hens a wading pool in the winter with peat moss.  I thought Hey, I have one of those!

First step, introduction of the pool:Some curiosity.  Then, the potting soil.  All the hens did ring a rosy around it- What’s this? I’ll let them take that apart themselves. I have to say, I thought there’d be a hen on top of that in seconds, but interest was muted. I expect the top of that will get hollowed out until there’s a chicken wallowing in the top of the bag and the pool is full of chickens.

Stay tuned.  Hilarity may ensue.

Meanwhile, back in the old dust bath...The hens are getting worked up about another hot bath.And then, a surprise.  First one claiming space, is the keet (it’s in there, but hard to see).What!?  How does the keet pull rank?  Dibs dirt bath!   The keet was the first one in, with a hen, and then pretty much the whole room cycled through it.

The hens and guineas hardly interact…until there’s a dirt bath!Later, when the queue got shorter….

The high wire act

Philippe Petit is getting his sisters in on the act.

Night before last I saw the bird forms on the rail in the dark, crushed up to the wall of the GH at the opposite end of the branch from the other guineas, and I thought two of the guineas were friends off with the other guineas, but in the light of morning, it turned out Philippe had spent the night roosting, with Perchick.

Not a surprise.  Perchick has been perching as high as she can get since she was a tiny chick.  These Heritage chickens remember that they’re birds.

But last night, it was Cream Puff!  And today, she was watching me approach through the plastic, so I went to the far door to get pictures before she flew down.Then she got on his branch and started walking along. Throwing her wings out for balance periodically like we would our arms.  whoa-Whoa! Ok… She’s on her way back now.  She’s starting to mess with PP’s balance.
Hey. You’re messing up my relax, here.


The bird buffet

There’s a lot of birds here to eat these days.  Often I’m sure there are more than 100 birds here at once, although they are hard to count on the hop.  Much easier to count in a photo though.  So I did.  In the photo, there’s  +/-134!!! (I counted twice).  And the photo is cropping out the outliers and the sentries and ones hacking seeds open in the trees and the ones hopping around on our porch and under the house.

So this is how I go through six bags of seeds every winter.

The regular swoop cycle is funny.  The birds are all on the ground, foraging, and someone sounds the alarm, and the birds all swoop up into the trees.  But not really all.  There are always a few that stay behind, unperturbed.

I’m not leaving the buffet!  That’ll be another false alarm.  Bob’s twitchy today, I’m sure it’s nothing again.  Then the birds all settle back down out of the trees again to toss seeds peacefully for a bit…  Then someone squawks at a wind gust and it happens all over again.

Cheep cheep chicks.

We’ve got a box of cheeps:) On cold nights when we bring Brown Bonnet and her trio in, the box is set down with the flap to the wall, and in the morning, it cheeps.

So cute!  At about 0:22 mom tries to open the box from the inside (also a daily activity). Excuse me, I believe it’s morning out there!

Then we ferry the box back into the chickery in the GH, which always provokes a lively conversation en route. There they are free. The only shot I get of them these days is crammed against the opposite corner of the chickery.  Ahmygawd a camera!  Today I vaselined her feet, and at her unexpected airlift out of the coop, all the chicks ran and hid in their box.  Smart kids. Brown Bonnet’s attentive and loyal lover, Major Fowler, lurks.  Someday, you will be free, and I will care for you and your offspring. Meanwhile, I sit.

Philippe Petit

My favorite rooster.  He’s gentle and mild, but he likes his high wire.

I think I’ll shake out my neck
Maybe my whole head
And wings! Going for it!

If you haven’t heard of Philippe Petit, who threw a wire between the World Trade Centers the moment they were constructed and tightrope walked between them (eat your heart out, Blondin), you’re missing out.

The documentary with the original characters is called Man on Wire (excellent!), and the Hollywood version, The Walk, stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit and is almost entirely truthful (also excellent! and in 3D!).  Both films will incite gasping, awe, and breath-holding.

He tightrope walked (and more) between the World Trade Centers!

Hoo! That’s better.

Snow White and the two dwarves.

Snow White and her two dwarves ave been reincarcerated in the Chickery I all month.After being integrated into chicken society at large, and even going to bed in the coop, HW put them back in the chickery while I was gone because they weren’t doing well.  He deemed them still too small.

They sure aren’t to big to be above cuddling with Mom at night.  They get closed into the covered wagon at night, while Brown Bonnet and her three, weeks younger, still get an airlift into the house on cold nights.I love the pompom tail stage.  Following pants.

Good stepsisters

These little Silkies have a sweet thing going on.  There’s the two young Silkie hens- real beauties, and maybe one has  started laying eggs – but they post up all day on the haybale in the middle of the room, and Yin and Yang, whose mom moved on ages ago to have another clutch, cuddle up with them.  They really cuddle.  They’ve got themselves some sweet stepsisters. Yin and Yang are always trying to burrow under, but they’re way too big for that.  Burrowing doesn’t really go anywhere.  It’s not like they’re cold, either, they’re just cuddling.It’s super cute to watch birds who are mostly free to choose, over time form attachments and “friendships” and decide where and how they spend their days; to see them organize themselves socially.

Mendicant Mouse

So I was digging in my mending basket, and tucked between the unhemmed pants and the unfinished apron, I found a cache of pistachios!  (Not mine – this is not usually where I prefer to store food).

A mouse hid all these away. I can’t even think when.  When it had access to an open bowl of pistachios.   It’s been ages since we’ve had any mice inside (since completely closing the soffit mouse-access).

It’s almost cute, thinking of a mouse transporting one nut at a time, burrowing in my basket and tucking them in for later.  Mouse joy at a sweet stash spot and the bounty of nuts bigger than its brain,  just there for the taking!   I am much softer on mice than others we know, because mice tend to notably NOT ruin my stuff.  Mice and I seem to have a deal.  I make an effort to keep them out of my stuff rather than kill kill kill (there’s no endgame in that).

This is the work of an unusually fastidious mouse, too, one who does not believe in pooping in his food storage area.A:  I had a nice unexpected snack (although a little stale), and B:  How embarrassing!  It’s been that long since I looked in my mending basket?  Tsk tsk!

A Roo Who’s Who.

It turns out (scientifically proven), that roosters don’t care how loud they’re yelling, because they can’t hear themselves.

When they open their mouths to holler, they shut their ears.  So a cock crowing is essentially screaming with his fingers stuck in his ears to protect his own hearing.  The hens are not so lucky.  They’re just stuck in a coop with a yeller in the morning, even though apparently if they have 50cm of distance, they aren’t getting hearing damage.

If you watch a roo crow, they are really putting their whole body into it, like they are literally throwing their voice (mine have been reported to be throwing 1.8 km) .  Right down to the tail, they put their head and neck and chest all in position as the crow moves through them, and sometimes lift up on their toes some.  It is kind of amazing that 140 db can come out of a 10 lb bird.

This means it’s no wonder that crowing is a learned accomplishment, and sounds as badly at the beginning as any child starting out on a wind instrument.

And now for a roo review…these are the roos of the zoo:This is Phillippe Petit (Chanticleer).  I like him.  He’s mild mannered.An unnamed Chanti. Toffee, maybe.The jury is out on him, but Cheeks, in the background, looks like she has an opinion.This guy’s a jerk (Chanticleer) .  His name is going to be Stew. This is the Colonel’s mini-me, with Cream Puff.  The reproduction is uncanny.  I’ve had lots of white Silkie roos, but none have been the spitting image in looks and demeanor of the Colonel.  It looks like these two are facing off, but really they were just pecking amicably and then glanced up at each other when I snapped the picture.An unnamed young brown roo (Silkie).  He’s a nice guy, I think he’s going to go to a nice new home (and that’s not a euphemism). Jack the jerk (Copper Maran), and his sister.  He thinks he’s extremely important at all times and he’s alone in that opinion.  He’s very good looking, but handsome is as handsome does, and Jack doesn’t do anything but swagger and barge.  He may also get a name change (that is a euphemism).

Jerks don’t get to stick around and make everyone’s life miserable.  I hate to kill anyone, but if I can’t give the roos to someone who wants their genes, then it’s the pot, when HW is ready for a chicken soup.


Perching hour

Perching hour is the peaceful time in the afternoon, when the birds are in siesta.  Giving those feathers a good going over, generally finding a high place to perch, on all available surfaces,or a nice handle to grip. Trying out the different perching options around the room. Finding their crew, or clique,  or dropping into sleep among friends. It’s a sweet time,  all the chickens napping, and you can see the groups of friends that have formed – across breeds and not always who you’d expect; the roosters wandering around making halfhearted passes at the hens and getting ignored.

Seed companies don’t want you to know this one fact!

I’m feeling smug about my seeds.

My collection of seeds is all organized.  That should last until, oh, about April, if I’m lucky.  They’ll be all muddy and confused when the time comes.  Only right now I can feel smug.

I’ve got all my seeds grouped into baggies, which handily hold seed packs new and partial, and all the other odd sizes of envelopes which accumulate with saved seeds and old seeds. Today is bean planting day?  Grab the bean bag, and then I can strew around my different types of bean packets and still have the fun of “ok, here I think I’ll put some yellow beans…maybe I’ll see if any of these from 2011 germinate over here…”  I can’t micro plan too much.

Aside: mind blowing new information of 2017! 

Seeds generally have a shelf life of two years in normal storage conditions, right?  Right?   NO!  Some seeds actually become more likely to germinate the longer you save them!!!   You can bet seed companies don’t want to hear that.

I have to say my experience bears this out.  I was tracking germination rates on my old seed packets- and I’m willing to admit that I have seeds that go back to 2003 – say in 2016 I got 1 out of 3 germination on whatever tomato from these old seeds, to compensate, I put in three seeds per cell the next year.  BOOM, all of them germinate.  For a number of seeds across species (and I’m often trying old seeds because of course I want to use them up), my germination rates increased! They were doing the opposite of what I expected, year after year.

More experimentation is in order, but when my friend told me this revolutionary notion (she was reading a French agriculture book), I went “That explains my tomatoes! I thought I was crazy”

Yeah, I know, it's a dark picture. Least it hides the Barry Manilow album in the background.I like the ziploc method, because it translates well to grabbing and going to the garden, and can even save the paper seed packs from melting in the dew if they get left out overnight.  It’s happened.

I’ve definitely outgrown my Lee Valley seed saving binder, which is a good idea with limitations, but taking the tri-zip “pages” out of the binder makes them useful again – they’re really handy for all the oddball seeds or small amounts (like, I don’t have enough melon seeds to warrant a “melon” baggie).

My brain is worn out from doing my garden plan today.  It mostly consists of plotting the seed start and transplant dates for all that I want to grow, estimating quantities and therefore square footage, and then mapping which areas will be roots/greens/etc, based on my crop rotation.  Then I sort over my seeds and a shopping list is generated (it’s a short list).

Then all those dates get stretched out onto a calendar, so every few days there are certain seeds to start, or put out, or direct sow (and the quantity of each is indicated).  Some days (tomato day) are big days, but the work is distributed quite widely, done right, and the best part is I never think again about what is the right time to plant this or that, because I did all that thinking today.  I just look at the schedule and keep marching.

It’s not like it all turns out according to plan, but planning day is the single most important thing I’ve done to improve my gardening.  Success is many times more likely with a reasonably detailed plan of when stuff needs to be done and where it has to go.  There’s plenty of latitude for adjustment but the basic schedule is invaluable.

Also because you can’t learn everything all at once and still get outside, planning day is a chance to fill in some corners of research, as I add things I want to try this year (When do I have to start those?  Perennial/annual?  Do they reseed themselves/save seeds?  What do they like to grow with?), and adjust according to the  record of “mistakes” I note every year (Put melons out later!  Lemon balm earlier.).

This year I intend to give flowers a better shot, and also make window boxes.

I know some people just squint at the sun and sniff the breeze and go “time to plant potatoes”, but that’s not me.  In time the scheduling will probably become much more “instinctive”, but “instincts” are often habits created by practice, passively or deliberately.  Don’t get me started on habits.

Winter skies

The three winter babies in the chickery with mom.  They still get ferried inside at night if it’s cold, in their night box. They have their wing tips coming in now.It warmed up today, and the snow finally came crashing off the roofs.I was having a good day.  Went for a bit of a ski in our woods, but then wrenched my knee just before chicken bedtime.  Sigh. The four musketeers.  Yin, Yang, and the two young hens.

Garden Plan

The garden looks a little bit like a graveyard, one total blanket of white with all the beds smooth bumps.  There are perennials, and enduring kale, under that blanket, and a million organisms living and waiting for reemergence.

It’s time to plan!  Very soon comes seed starting.   Garden planning is a big day’s work, because I’m new at it, still working out the timing and quantities and integrating conclusions made from learning experiences.

This year I’ll have a much bigger area to plant too.  Moving the greenhouse one step to the side means that 720 sq ft of premium, weed free, amended soil must be covered deliberately, by me, or else Mother Nature will cover it with maybe not my first choice of plants, just as deliberately.


Happy about living naturally