Chicken Journal

The first month.  In which, difficulties “training” chickens to utilize new accommodations emerge.

 

Day 1
Crowing.  Early, loud, and continuous.

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We peeked at them, all perched inside but the white hen still in the cardboard box.  There are two cocks (white) and three hens, which are white, brown (“red”), and black, which makes it very easy to describe all of them without names.  We have a “little red hen”!  Emphasis on the little.  They’re small.

IMGP6734We had to staple on some mesh to create a “downstairs” compartment to contain them in the morning before we opened the ramp, so we worked around the base of the coop.

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The downstairs mesh is for their containment, not their protection! Coop is only secure when the ramp is shut.

Dead silence from inside while we worked.  Except when we were chatting with some passing biologists, right next to the coop, and suddenly a big cock-a-doodle-do issues from the box.   We finished our little fence, dropped the ramp and waited for the first explorer to peek out.  They didn’t.  Left them to it.

Silence.

An hour later. Crowing!  Does that mean?  Yes, The big rooster was down, crowing about his accomplishment.  We watched him discover the joys of vegetation.  Exploratory peck- hmmm.  Hmm!  More pecking.  Vigorous plant consumption.  We waited for the others to follow him down the ramp.  Nothing.  Thought ramp might be too steep for these tiny birds and made temporary adjustments.

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An hour later.  Anxious clucking alerted me and I caught HW trying to chivvy the other birds down with a stick.  He got the angry wife face.  I said let them find their own way down!  He got the red hen down though and she was instantly enjoying herself, and he confidently predicted that one hen down would make the others come.

Not true.  Another hour later.  No more birds down the ramp and red hen and rooster enthusiastically decimating the veg on their own.  I peeked inside to see if there was progress and they were all roosting!  I initiated chivvying with a stick.

Didn’t work.  Nooo!  We dread the ramp!  Escalated to us grabbing the birds – BLOODY MURDER!! – and thrusting them down the hole where they stumbled down the ramp and immediately began purring and pecking.  Oh.  It’s nice down here.  I had a sinking feeling that this tableau might repeat in reverse in the evening to get them back in.

Peace, for the rest of the day.  Cute little chickens.

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We watched them some and decided they’re very gentle.  Not one peck on each other.  Also very small.  The roosters are twice as big as the hens, like a different breed. H.W. said “the hens look like they’re crouching down, but they’re not, they’re just that small.”  The roosters are very handsome, with purple combs so dark they’re almost black.  One is smaller than the other, with different facial flesh, and never crows.  The one who does is missing one syllable from his cock-a-doodle-do, so it’s more like it’s the DAY here.  Or on some days, it’s a DOWNpour.   Other than the obvious rooster supremacy, it’s hard to determine any order among them.

Alarmingly, we never catch them drinking, and I worry they’re weirded out by the unfamiliar water fount. Provide a variety of water vessels.

H.W. also says “They’re like city chickens.  First day in the country,” because they aren’t too energetic, and not much into scratching.  Very calm. Not used to grass.  Never seen a ramp before.  He thinks they’ll figure it out, though.

Near the evening we were watching and they seemed much more relaxed.  Too relaxed.  Hey!  I think they’re settling for the night.  Definitely, hunkering down in the corner for keeps.

Chivvying with a stick…

The afternoon performance, luckily, was not as dramatic and traumatic as the morning.  Poking towards ramp – ok, we’ll hide under the ramp.  Underramp blocked off with cardboard.  One inch at a time, up the ramp, protesting.  Jump off the ramp, start over.  The red and black hens, halfway up, settled down comfortably I’ll just stay here for the night.  No, really, I’m good here.  See, dozing.  Finally had to reach in and put them up by hand.  No panic or outrage though.
Shut the ramp.  Look at each other.  This better not happen every day.

Day 2
Drop the ramp.  High hopes for a better beginning than yesterday.  Now they know what it’s like downstairs, and that’s where the food is, surely…

Half hour later I peek and all the birds are clustered around the hatch.  Much better.

Crowing!  First rooster down; proud of it.

An hour later.  What happened to the rest of you guys … hey, what, you’re roosting!?!

Get the stick.

Anything but the ramp!  We’d rather starve than go down the ramp! Roost to the death!   This time I opened the lid too far and the second rooster escaped.  He was so horrified with his freedom OMG, now what do I do!?  Get back in.  CAN’T!  he promptly ran into the long grass and sank down to hide, where I threw my shirt over him and calmly picked him up and deposited him on lower level.  Slowly, patiently, with a long stick, persuaded all the hens to go down the ramp by themselves. Oh, happy place! So all but the second cock made their own way downstairs, however reluctantly.  Really, this better not happen every day.

About this time H.W. started speculating that they may not be the smartest breed in the species.

Peace for the day.

Adorable.  Little head poufs, fuzzy little bodies, low to the ground.  Their feathers are fine like hair, so they resemble long haired cats, especially the cocks with their luxurious manes.  Except entirely the wrong shape to be cats, obvs.  They are very calm outside of times of upramp-downramp transitions.  And quiet.  The cock rarely crows during the day.  Before dawn, however…  Still no crows from the second rooster.

I made a temporary coop extension so that they could get a little farther away from me while I made some refinements and permanent ramp adaptations.  First design definitely too steep.  They quickly accepted me and the drill sounds and stretched out in the sun in a feathery pile.  Was pleased that they had the sense to make themselves dust baths, at least, which looks like they’re burying themselves, flattening down in, squabbling over the deep spot  my turn.  Still worried that I never see them drinking, but they’re doing plenty of eating.

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Evening.

Noticed they were making weird sounds like a baby crying and sat down to watch for a bit.  Feared dehydration was causing painful wailing.  But it was the roosters making the sounds.  Could it be, bedtime noises? Head count, double take, hey wait, where’s the white hen?  Peeked up hatch and she was sitting inside, looking down the ramp.  Yay!  One of them has sense!

Sat to watch the process.  Will they do it on their own?

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Edging towards ramp.  Crowding on first step of ramp.  Everyone wants to be only on the first step of the ramp.  First cock steps over the crowd and walks slowly but surely upstairs.  Yay! Two of them up, no, wait…  White feet coming down the ramp.  Oh no!  It’s the white hen, followed by the first rooster!

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Backsliding.  Second rooster passes everyone to go up, then comes back down.  Not done eating.  Red and black hens creep to halfway up the ramp.  White hen goes up (all of these advances and retreats at molasses speed), passes red and black hens on their way back down.  They go back to eating.  First rooster up.  Two up, three down.  Second rooster and black and red hens have a second wind and renew foraging.  Hens make pathetic attempts to get on the ramp from the side, hurling themselves at it.  No matter, resume eating.  Second rooster goes up to stay; first rooster comes down.  Does some more eating, thoughtfully sneaks up on black hen and pounces on her.  Amorous attempt thwarted.  Waits for black and red hens to sort themselves out on the base of the ramp and begin their tentative, glacial progress up it.  Going, going, oh, second thoughts… first cock distinctly gives red hen a push with his head.  Going, gone!

Success.  7:06 pm

Close the ramp.   Well, can count on them for half the process.  Dare I hope for the morning?

Day 3
Opened ramp at dawn.

Replete with faith that they would surely show themselves out today, and sure that the crowing after a period of quiet meant they had done so, I left them alone for a couple hours.

Check on them.  Are you kidding me?  No chickens downstairs.

Stick.  First rooster immediately bounces downstairs.  Rest of the birds jam themselves into the other three corners and mount a determined resistance with a great deal of flapping.

They’re all still alive, so they must be getting enough to drink, but I wonder why they’re so private about it.

With little miniature chickens, everything is miniature.  I make dispensers out of pop bottles; a little scoop of food is all they need.  They’re so tiny.  The taller roosters have mostly naked legs with a feather accent on their feet, but the ladies apparently have feathers all the way down their legs.  It gives the impression that they’re wearing little feather clown pants.  That and the puffball on the head-they are very funny looking chickens.  Super cute, though, little and soft, funny looking and adorable.
What the heck? Mid afternoon, three of the birds are upstairs?  Are they thinking about laying?  Second cock and white hen positively snuggling in a corner.  I leave them to it and provide water.

Other two content.  Black hen maybe more than content; posted up in front of the new feeder, scarfing.  They go up by evening.

Day 4
Opened ramp.  First rooster down before I walk out of sight.  A new record.

Will they or won’t they?

They won’t.  Bring on the sticks.

This time all the birds quietly and reluctantly, but with painful slowness, approach the ramp and walk themselves down it as though they meant to, albeit coerced in that direction.  Major progress.

10 am, all but the first cock are back upstairs.  This is ridiculous.  It’s like kids- you have to go play outside.  Introduce stick – rooster immed. comes upstairs to see what the ruckus is about.  They all troop down relatively cooperatively in a line.  I observe that the biggest psychological barrier seems to be the hop off the perch, even though it’s only a few inches high.  They bob their heads and think about that step for a while.

Phew- witness rooster drinking.  Ok.

Now you see them, now you don’t.  Little pompom heads all go to bed while we’re not looking around 6 pm.

Day 5
Opened ramp.  An instant of silence, then happy clucking and thump, rooster hops off perch, emerges, and crows about it.
I still have optimism.

Completely unfounded.  An hour later, all the rest still perching.

H.W.: “Ok, at this point it’s just annoying.”

Brandish stick and all of them hop down and make their way out in a line as though they were waiting for stick time, except red hen, who watches exodus interestedly and exhibits some anxiety once everyone’s gone but recovers and settles in to stay. Encourage with stick and she goes.

A couple hours later, notice all of them are back upstairs.  Why?  We leave for a few hours and they’re still in there when we get back.  Chase them out with a stick and they quite obediently trot downstairs and eat.  Go to bed at 7.

How long will this go on?  Only the rooster seems to think going down for a bite to eat and a drink is an idea worth taking the initiative to do.  Why are they not normal?

Day 6
A breakthrough!  Not in the morning though- had to chase them out, per usual.  At the appearance of the stick they file out and down the ramp obediently.

But midday, the brown hen was upstairs, then, she was down again!  Later, the white one did the same!  Yay, now we know that the ramp is known as a passage that functions in two directions, for three of the birds.  If they go upstairs early, we know they know how to come back down should they get hungry or thirsty.  They are now scratching and scuffing in a more typical chicken way, churning up the floor of the coop like you’d expect chickens to.  It’s almost like they had to learn or remember how to do that.

 

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Day 7
Rooster bounds out as soon as the ramp drops, and he has also learned the sounds of food.  When he’s upstairs in the day and I approach and open the sides, he knows that means that I’m throwing some more food in.  He starts chirruping even before -thump– he hops off the perch and runs down the ramp.  He’s not always joined by the ladies, though, even though he clearly announces feasting time.

Today we decided to open up the downstairs and let them loose, since we were going to work on the garden right next to them.  Our nearness would protect them from aerial predators.  I opened one side wide.  The rooster was looking hard, sorta skeptically.  Something is different here.  Eventually, he slowly stepped out, then stepped a little faster, then called the rest, and they were off.  The red hen had retired already after a breakfast browse, and no sooner did H.W. say “the red hen’s upstairs, she’s gonna miss out!” that her brown feathered feet appeared at the top of the ramp.  She peeked out over her feet.  ???  What!? Grass party?  Then trundled down hastily to join in.  Very funny.  All of them walked in a line behind the rooster out into the tall grass, taller than them.  I’d expected them to stick more closely to the coop, but they were off.  Chicken safari!

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They toddled off in a big loop, and I thought the rooster might lead them to the shade of the trees- we’d have to head them off – but he got cold feet or else was upset that the hens had lost interest in single file and started to disperse.  Oh, tasty, oh and this over here is tasty too…  He turned around and both roosters worked quickly together to group up the hens again, then they returned to the shady side of the coop,  not the side they’d left from.  How do we get back in?  I opened the other sides for them (3 sides of the coop have mesh “doors” that can be peeled open for throwing in snacks, or changing the water).  I left them open and the birds all roamed freely in and out and stayed nearby for the rest of their free time.  The second rooster made a spectacle of himself stretching and lounging in the dust bowl with his feet sticking out in the air, and the white hen posted up over her anthill.  She has discovered ants.  A couple days ago I uncovered an anthill in their coop and the birds walked vaguely around it, over it; the ants walked over their feet and feathers.  Sigh.  The white hen has figured it out, though, and clearly loves the ants.  She spends ages standing on the anthill, her attention completely fixed.  They all seemed much more relaxed with us; not sure if they’re getting used to us or if they were more comfortable with the doors open because they weren’t confined.

H.W. was chucking worms to them from the garden and the rooster figured out very quickly who was the purveyor of worms and started watching H.W. like a hawk for the next toss, edging out towards us.  I’m impressed with the first rooster.  Smart, aware, taking care of the ladies.  It’s nice that the two roosters get along so well, and cooperate at times.  Never dispute.  I’m not sure how the second rooster feels about his total subordination, but it’s pleasant for everyone that he doesn’t squawk about it, literally.

Why are they glowing?  I don't know why they're glowing
Why are they glowing? I don’t know why they’re glowing

These chickens are adorable.  Fluffy, cute, very sweet, gentle and quiet chickens, slow, in more ways than one.   They border very closely on lazy.  It’s nice to not worry about aggression.  They never peck each other, and rarely get worked up at all.   I can see why they’re a maternal breed. The black hen seems like the dimmest, but she also seems like the first cock’s favourite.  Maybe she just needs the extra attention.

So, when will we get an egg?

Day 8
Rooster decided to help plant potatoes and unexpectedly came up in our zone to do a little strutting on top of the mounded potato bed.  Also witnessed first squabble between white and black hen (white won).  May have been over ants.  New coop location means new excavations, and they’ve been drilling little holes like wells. White hen has made one her whole head fits in.

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Day 9
No stick!  All the hens follow the rooster down slowly and talkatively, black hen in the lead (a surprise), and red hen lingering straggler (not a surprise).  But was it really on their own?  I did tire of waiting and opened the lid, which is usually closely followed by the stick, so were they really responding to the opening lid?

Day 10
What the heck?

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These are egg falsies, put in the nests as a inspiration and reassurance to layers in a new place, that this is where eggs go.  The ‘what the heck’ is that two are in one box (I “seeded” one in each).  So somehow, without thumbs, one or more of these chickens moved a fake egg over the wall between the nests!  Even crazier is that it would have been much easier to bump it out the lower front of the nest box, but no, they knew it belongs in a box.  How?  When?  How long did that take?  Where’s the chicken cam when you need it?

Day 11
Still need to open the lid in the morning to provoke the exit downramp, but don’t need the stick. Ok, ok, we’re going.
Also standard to roust them out mid afternoon and chase them downstairs to eat some more.  It can’t be right for them all to go to roost as early as noon.  H.W.:  “Get downstairs and do something if you’re not going to lay eggs up here!  What a lazy bunch of perch potatoes!”

Today was a cool, foggy, damp day, with the moisture in the air making all the spider net webs visible on the shrubs and soaking our pant legs in the grass.  The chickens roamed much farther during their supervised free range time while we dug garden beds, maybe because it was cool. I love the chicken soundtrack while we dig.   They were obviously loving it, burrowing in the grass and simultaneously eating and rolling around, which is the funniest- upside down writhing chicken pausing to peck, peck, resume wriggling.IMGP6913  They were hilariously entertaining, scattering around away from the coop (making the rooster nervous), disappearing in the greenery, eating grass blades like spaghetti, digging little holes to writhe in, and getting themselves wet and dirty, making their little head feathers all punk rock spiky.  How small they are is all too obvious once they get out in the grass, and make no impact on it at all.  We really need another fleet of (full-sized) chickens to scratch and fertilize (and lay eggs) in a meaningful way.  H.W. was teasing me about my fluffy little toy chickens.  But then he announces he’s named them all.  Pardon?  So he loves them too.  They are a not very useful bunch of tiny toy chickens, but they’re a start.

Heavy metal hairdos. Wet day.
Heavy metal hairdos. Wet day.

Day 15
All of the birds come and go freely, up and down.  Mostly up, though.  Especially the red hen loves a siesta.  An all-day siesta.  They eat and rummage around in the grass for a few hours, or maybe just one, then it gets hot and they go upstairs.  To perch, not to sit promisingly in a nest box, despite earlier evidence of someone using a box.  Or it’s cool and wet and they go upstairs.  Or they get bored and go upstairs.  Or they’re all narcoleptic.   Is this the expression of their extra-broody Silkie nature?  The hens retire sooner than the roosters, but they too follow the ladies upstairs far too early.  It’s become routine to chase them all back downstairs in the afternoon for another round of eating and foraging.

IMGP6937Day 16
White hen was avoiding the attentions of the rooster and ran into the tall grass and held still, invisible but for her poofy puffball of a head poking up on the lookout.  Bright white Q-tip in the grass.  It is funny that most weeds are bigger than they are.

Day 18
H.W., frustrated with the birds’ continued non-productivity and also concerned they aren’t spending enough time down to properly feed themselves, chased them back downstairs three times before lunch.  “What are ya doin’ upstairs again already, ya roost russets?”  All this accomplished was making the three hens roost on the ramp in a line, uncertainly hunkering down in no-mans-land, which was very amusing.  So chickens can be trained.  They were tempted off the ramp later by some fresh scraps, then promptly went upstairs for the night.  What’s up with them?  They “range” barely a few feet from the coop, eat enthusiastically but not for long, and only occasionally enjoy a long ant feast or sunsprawl/dust bath.  Most often they slip upstairs after a short snack, and may or may not come out again in the afternoon on their own.  How are they getting enough to eat or drink that way?  And what does it take to get eggs out of them?  They are the most relaxed, laid-back chickens I’ve ever seen, so I think they’re content enough..?

Day 25

Black hen hiding
Black hen hiding

The presence of two roosters is so far impeding any budding love in the henyard, or at least any consummation.  Regularly the main rooster picks out a hen and stalks her meaningfully.  Usually the girls scurry away squawking and hide themselves in the weeds, but if he’s lucky enough to get up on her, then the second rooster in a smooth flanking manoeuvre strolls up to the proceedings and –Pop!  plucks a feather out of the amorous rooster’s tail.  That ends things instantly, as the randy rooster lifts straight into the air with a surprised squawk and the hen escapes.  The tail-puller is already gliding away, snacking nonchalantly. Seen this cock-blocking happen like it’s scripted, three times now.  Hilarious!   H.W. even narrates: “- Hey! Get offa her!  – You! Are not helping! – Whatever might you be talking about?”   But it lessens my confidence in a future of fertilized eggs.  We’ll have to lock up one of them when we need viable eggs.

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Day 30
Successful mating also happens.  That’s good to know.  I guess you win some you lose some.  Rooster walks right up to me when I come with food.  He’s on the ball, always watching.  One of us regularly boots them back outside in the afternoon and they come out, eat and explore good-naturedly for awhile.  They move a little farther from the coop than they used to, and are obviously very comfortable with their new free-range identity, grazing and lounging in the long grass, sunning and scratching in the short grass.  No eggs yet.  Their cost so far: $9 hardware cloth (extra on the bottom of the coop not necessary); $5 food (consumed).  I guess that’s only about 4 dozen eggs (not yet laid), but not too big a deficit for them.  Total expenditures include grit and oyster shell $10.15, which it will take them months to eat, a $32 bag of organic feed, who knows how long that will take to eat, and more hardware cloth than was reasonable to buy, but makes it easy to build more coops.  I recommend knowing exactly how much hardware cloth you need before going to the store and being put on the spot at the cash register.  It comes in 2, 3, and 4’ widths.

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Add woodpeckers to the list of the fearless.

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Add woodpeckers to the list of the fearless.  Two or three woodpeckers started hanging around us, and they are really so very interested in being near us, so suddenly, we suspect that they are new fledglings.  H.W. had them landing on his piles of wood, on the ground on his tools when he moved from them to the pile of wood, and frequently on an upright post near him, scooting a circle around the post and peeking out like a child at hide-and-seek.  One has the red head and the other does not, and we don’t know for sure if there are more than two, that have the same colouring.

They are always around now, shrieking Keerrrr! IMGP7029IMGP7032 They also hang on the chicken coop (rooster cocking head at them) and on my cucumber trellis.  Lots of birds seem to like the garden structures, using them as midfield lookout stop-overs, since there’s few high spots in the field.

These woodpeckers let us get very close, just more than arm’s reach, and we’ve had closer calls when they swoop through past our heads, or when one landed on wood I was simultaneously reaching out to grab – squawk!  IMGP7034

They are keen-eyed hunters of that insect that looks like an inch-long ant, swooping into the garden to scoop them up or plucking them out of the stacks of wood we are working on.

Fledging day

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The trio of barn robins fledged today (clutch #2).  H.W. went in to look at them, and said they were all side by side in the nest, looking out, but when he looked up at them, they all burst out of the nest and strewed about on the floor.  He started to scoop them up and put them back in the nest (Uhoh, uhoh), when he got attacked from the air by the parents and beat a retreat.  So they were out of the nest, and stayed out.  Premature fledging?  The rest of the day was full of low-flying overhead zooms from trees to roofs and back, with clumsy landings.  The mother robin shrieked her head off all day, screaming concern or encouragement to the little ones.  “OMG!  The branch!  The wind!  People!  Veer!  No, not there! Ailerons, now! OMG!  Not the roof!  Don’t follow him!  I can’t look!  Augh!  My heart!!!”, or that’s what it sounded like.  We seem to have missed this day on the last batch.

The fledgers seemed ok.  By sunset they had spread themselves pretty wide, judging from the changing source of the mother’s piercing narrative.

Chickadee tragedy (?)

I snuck over to peek at the chickadee nest, and, the horror!  The dead tree was snapped off right through the nest!

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So much for super secure :(  The chickadee’s nest excavations, that made the wall of the tree 3/16” thin on one side, must have weakened the tree too much.  We’ve had some wet and windy days.

I studied the scene and found no trace of violent death from the tree snapping or predators later.  Not a feather, nor shells, on the ground. The top of the tree was lying next to the base.

One tiny poop and one wet feather in the nest- it seems improbable that she raised her young slyly enough for us not to notice comings and goings and they got out in time, but I can hold out hope.

The nest is almost wholly built out of my hair and fibres I recognize from our Icelandic wool blanket and our fleece sheets.  Incredible.  Basically he felted together a little bowl.  I’m glad they benefited from our intrusion here, then.

IMGP7008Once I saw him on the ground outside the camper door, gathering a few hairs and a tuft of wool that’d been swept outside.  He was really working at it, trying to tug the little tangle loose from where it was stuck on twigs and dirt.  Each yank and he’d emit a little “eep”.  The hairs were good and stuck and it looked frustrating.  “Eep, eep, eep, EEP!”  Something I wouldn’t even see- a few brown hairs on the ground- and that little bird spied it.

By the barn, the robin is very sly while feeding her chicks- HW has often worried that she hasn’t been around, but she clearly has been around, enough to rear up clutch #2 to a full feathered trio.  Clutch #1.  They’ll be out of the nest any day.  I should have taken a picture on the day I discovered the little pink wigglers with bruise blue eye bulges.  There were only two, sharing the nest with the third blue egg,  and I assumed that the remaining egg was a dud.  But no, it must have been the day they were born, and the third had not yet hatched.  They barely fit in the nest now, overflowing it.

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Coop II, the Mini Coop’r

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Thinking about it… thinking some more…

Hatched a plan to make a smaller coop for the silkies.  Coop I is cavernously too spacious for them and they don’t like the big drop from the perch to the floor, a scary 6”(!).

 

So I scaled everything down and reproduced the coop in a 3 x 4’ model, which will be plenty for a silkie flock of a dozen, should they ever get it together to reproduce.  Eggs would be a good start.

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Two down
One down
One down

Some small changes – I made the nest boxes  on the high side instead of the low, over the ramp, which is the whole length of the box to create a very friendly low slope and also make it easier to latch.  I hope smaller boxes with smaller openings that the rooster may not even fit in, higher than the perching area, will be cozier and more appealing to the tiny hens.  The roof will hinge on the low side this time so access is over the boxes for that dreamed-of egg collection.
I added a chicken-spying window so we can peek in at them without lifting the lid.

I retrofit one on the original coop too.

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H.W. loves it.  “Hey in there!  Whatcha doing?  Roosting?  That’s right, I see you!”

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Ha!  We're not in there!
Ha! We’re not in there!

Solar oven

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First loaf of real (yeast) bread on the go

One essential off-grid accessory is the solar oven.  It was on my list of early things we would have to build, but my Dad gave us this commercial oven (Sun Oven, from Illinois), and is it ever wonderful.

Its praises:

Portable.  Oh so portable, because it’s ultra light, and it’s a perfect size dimensionally for picking up with two hands and toting around, even when there’s something stewing or brewing in it.

Incredibly well-designed.  The inside is easy to wipe clean; there’s an adjustable landing leg on the back for easily adjusting the tilt to aim it at the sun;  when you stow the reflective panels, which takes about 2 seconds, there’s a snap strap that secures them, and then there’s a suitcase handle; the exterior is molded plastic, without seams; the glass has a airtight rubber seal; it holds a tall pot or two bread pans side by side.  Especially, there’s a cradle inside that holds the pot or pan, and it swings to keep the contents level no matter of the tilt you put on the oven.   The cradle has a little edge to keep your food aboard.  All so very very well-designed.

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The internal thermometer is obscured by condensation pretty quickly when it heats up.  This oven heats up very fast, hitting boiling in about 20 minutes.  It takes 3-4 hours to bake, say, banana bread.  I scoot it around in the afternoon and adjust the leg to keep it aimed at the sun.  On a sunny hot day, I can bake two items.

It’s not just for baking of course.  It boils water, cooks rice (like a dream), cooks anything in a pot, really.  I even managed to burn something.  I’m trying to get into bread, in the spirit of reducing things that we purchase.  H.W. got a lot of discount bananas though, so there was a run of banana bread, which does very well in the Sun Oven.

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Starting to steam up. Looks like a banana bread loaf.

I try to use it for cooking every sunny day.  Every time I use it instead of the stove, I save that much propane.  And when it’s hot, no one wants to heat and steam up the camper, ugh.  This keeps the heat outside.  I pick it up and set it in the sun, open the reflective wings, set something to bake and turn it to optimum sun a couple times during the baking, then fold in the reflectors and put it away for the night.  E-Z.  Awesome.  I’m really glad I didn’t know until now what this oven goes for, (phew!), but it does have a lot of advantages over the bulky, heavy, less portable and versatile homemade possibilities, and I can’t imagine any possible improvements.  This is the top of the heap of solar ovens.

Chickadee mama

IMGP6600We’ve been scrupulously avoiding the chickadee nest to not put her off, but we haven’t seen chickadees in the area for ages.  So when H.W. asked “can we go look in the nest yet?” I agreed because I was dying to know too.  It’s been about three weeks so I was assuming they had abandoned it because of us.  We tiptoed over and peeked in.  She’s in there!  At least eight inches down in a cylindrical hole smaller than a pop can, I saw the top of her little black cap and her beak, looking around.  Yay!  We didn’t put her off; she’s busy making some more tiny chickadees.  What a super-secure little silo of a nest.  No wonder chickadees seem pretty reproductively successful.

Garden beginnings

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We are beavering away at the task of putting in a garden.  Priority one: attention to food.  Even though we have no illusions about productivity this year, it’s important to start.

We got off to a poor start- an unusually late frost took out all the tomato starts we’d put in.

We’ve tried a couple methods:  1) digging small holes to put a plant in, and surrounding it by cardboard and mulch.  Over time and continued mulch-piling, ground around will soften up into a bed.  Saves time, but no good at all for seeds.  Good for squash.  2) plastic mulch. Pure experiment.  Neighboring farmer offered us the waste plastic off of his hay bales – those ubiquitous white haybales that dot fields in the fall – and we spread it around to see if it would knock back the sod cover.  So far, the results are not conclusive, nor impressive.  The plastic,is multiple layers of white plastic like saran wrap, only layered up a quarter inch thick on a finished bale, and cut off so the waste plastic has an open clamshell shape.  It’s heavy and insulating, but may be letting light through because it’s white.  3) digging.  We have our labor-saving, painless technique down pat now, with this wicked sod-breaker from Lee ValleyIMGP6853

H.W. goes through with the sod breaker, standing on it and tipping it back and forth, three widths of the tool wide and as long as the bed.

H.W. has to do this part, because I can’t.  I’ve tried, and I’m not strong or heavy enough to plunge the tines into the dirt.  I  jump up and down and get it a whole three inches deep in the ground and teeter there on it, and H.W. laughs and laughs, and calls me a “little feather”, which I can’t say I’ve been called before.  One of many things it emerges I can’t do without him.  IMGP6861Then the sod chunks fall apart and we shake the soil out of them with our hands and digging fork, and shape the bed. IMGP6867 Makes a picture perfect, sod and root-free bed of soil that you’d never guess was just broken from ground unworked for 15 years.   IMGP6879Then we seed it.  If we maintain our beds compaction free, heavily mulched, top-dressed and cover-cropped, we will never have to till again.

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Rooster approved

It’s not horrible work and doesn’t take very long.  Well, after rain it’s much less easy and fun – the sod is heavy and matted; yet it’s still doable in the rain, and we are aiming for steady continuity, not to do it all at once and burn out.

We are aiming for four garden beds a week in June, and that will break a respectable area for this year, easily on top of all the other work we need to do.  Next year we can do the same and double our garden.  So far, six beds.

Woodpeckers

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Found a woodpecker nest!  Big tree with three perfect holes carved in it.  Saw the woodpecker, not sure what kind, arrive to the upper hole and woooop, slip in headfirst and disappear.  It’s quite high in the tree, but right where we’ve heard a lot of headbanging industry lately.  So they were building a nest.

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And there’s the woodpecker

Chicken arrival

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We picked up chickens from some nice people with an impressive menagerie of exotic pheasants, peacocks, and chickens (their amazing place is for sale, too, if anyone is into birds in a big way).  After a mad shrieking (the chickens, not us) scramble to catch the right birds and stuff them (all five together) into a box, we spent some time there visiting, then drove almost an hour home.  They were mostly quiet on the way, just some scuffling and disgruntled noises on some curves in the road.

Evening was coming on fast when we got home, and we were bringing hardware cloth for the coop home at the same time as the occupants, that we had to install before we could put the birds in for the night.  We quickly tacked the mesh on the bottom, creating the secure “upstairs” interior, and used plumbing strap to put on the poles for carrying it.  Then we tipped the coop back upright and moved it to the garden area where we want them scratching.

Yep, heavy.  H.W. :“Yeah, I feel like an Egyptian slave, carrying the king on a litter.”  IMGP6727

All ready to release the birds into their new home!

IMGP6729Excited, we carried the box of birds up from the car and put it on the floor inside the coop.  IMGP6730

Reached in to open the flaps, waiting for the heads to pop up, and… nothing.  All the birds were burrowed down on the floor of the box, in a very awkward-looking pile, heads down.

Peeked in on them later, and they hadn’t moved.  Spending the night in the box, then.

Shade and energy

IMGP7044Put a rain and shade shelter over the tiny green camper, to help it last longer and give us some added protection.  Happy with how the experimental design turned out.  Tying it in (literally-knots only for fastening) to two living trees makes it all “breathe” satisfactorily in what wind we’ve seen so far.  I’d be afraid that the tarp sail would promptly take out our posts if that’s all we had.  The shade and bigger dry perimeter is very nice.

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Got our wiring sorted out, too, and am very happy to discover that the solar panel handily charges two laptops, two cordless tool batteries, phones, camera batteries, and more in one sunny afternoon, without a blip on the battery voltage (ie. still a surplus of energy).  That’s pleasing, because that is most of our electric energy needs.  Currently for cooking, on demand solar shower, and the generator (to run power tools), we are using a bit less than a pound, or a dollar, of propane a day.  Not bad.  After that is driving fuel, which is currently about one day a week, which we expect to cut in half and reduce to once  per month before long, and chainsaw gas, fairly minimal.