Blueberries!?

I was so pleased and surprised to find actual blueberries!  We have a fair number of blueberry plants, that are besieged by field weeds, but besides that, I’ve never beaten a chicken to a blueberry.  They clean any intrepid berry off long before they reach blue.

These berries are on the chicken-less far side of the former pasture, but the wild bird population is very strong too, so it’s a pleasant surprise to find a few ripe berries of my own!  There were three whole plants with blue berries!

I was at a friend’s this week picking berries in a lush, abundant field.  He doesn’t have chickens.

Finally, a few pictures of the elusive guinea chicks

Over and over, all I get to see is lots of little guineas vanishing into the brush.This morning, they were under the chicken’s coop before I opened it.

They have little wings of their own now, and they are at least doubled in size from when they hatched.  Still with Big Bird orange feet and beaks.

I can’t believe one hen can cover them at night, and I think of her when it pours cats and dogs at night, resolutely making herself into a tent.  In the morning, all the chicks are dry.

They still move en masse, attended constantly by all five adults.  They get superlative parenting.

They aren’t quite as terrified of us, and I got closer today than ever before.  Now they leave when I come around, rather than flee. Not quite as much of a panic.   And the adults show their suspicion but are more tolerant.

I even got a chance to count them! and there are definitely 16, so that means that little spinaround chick made it.  I’m glad:)

Hot day

It´s a HOT day. (30C, haha!) No one has much energy, including me. It´s hard to move quickly or remember things.

The hens are rolled on their sides with their wings spread like fans and legs stuck out at anatomically improbable angles.

The Colonel usually doesn´t let down his hair like this.

The pigs just sleep in their wallow when it’s this hot, and they get two deliveries of water poured over their backs. They are very happy with their last move – more buckthorn forest to laze around in.

I saw our big old snapping turtle friend, but he didn´t let me get a picture. He´s too fast for that.

Almost bacon

The pigs don’t know it, but their days are numbered.  They’re busy living the good life.

They seem so big!  All jowlly and robust.  They never outgrew a good sprint, and they love the daily wallow – I pour a bucket of water over them every afternoon, and they’ll leave behind food at the sound of me pouring out some water – they run to me and flop down in the puddle.

Adventure Pig

Spots

The oinkers have  ravaged this last fence placement, but they love it- they sleep at night under the shrubs – really they spend most of their time cashed out in the dirt under those shrubs.  It wasn’t easy getting the fence to surround that big patch of buckthorn, either, but they are expressively appreciative of my effort.But what’s this in the background?  Oh, just the resident chickens.

Resident is not an exaggeration.

Tribe Oreo decided ages ago to live with the pigs.  The Oreos and their Silkie stepmom leave the coop in the morning, go directly to Pigland, jump through the electric fence (which is, in fact, energized), and spend the entire day in there, leaving at darkfall to go back to the coop.  Every day.  For weeks.

They share the pig house.  Birds and pigs all sleep in there together when it gets hot or rains.

The Oreos are black as crows and weigh as much as their mom now.  They are big on perching, and like to jump up in those tangled shrubs.  One is a rooster, already standing up to the Silkie roos.

Probably the one eyeballing me is the rooster

They spend the day roaming around the pig enclosure, perfectly satisfied to stay inside the fence.

We speculated.  That the hen likes it in there because she is safe from the attention of the roosters.  That they like the pig food, or benefit from the pigs’ rooting.  I tried putting her in the coop with the Colonel, to see if she would stay with him and under his protection.  Nope.  Pigland by day and the Brahma coop at night.  She knows what she wants.

Hers and Hers

I’ve got another broody hen, so now the eggery is a duplex.

The first broody – the most tolerant little girl who was keeping the orphan guinea warm for a few days (that little keet expired after all) – is due any day, if she was successful.  Her attachment to a daily meal may have left her eggs cold for too long.

I haven’t really thought through the extra occupation of the the chickery, but I’ll probably release the first set of chicks into the greenhouse jungle when they come.

The new broody is the biggest of all the silkie hens; she’s easily covering 9 eggs.

The first broody has stuck to her daily break time throughout her term-  a new quirk, and the box inside the chickery has worked perfectly.  She comes out, eats, poops, and then creeps back into her box, talking to her eggs the whole time, which is adorable.  I’m coming back…here I am.

Eye wide open

There’s 16!

I haven’t managed to get any good pictures of the pile of guinea chicks.

What I have is a rolls worth of pictures of guinea butts disappearing into the grass, maybe a glimpse of keets following behind.

 

I’ve seen them!  I’ve surprised them, walking out with a bucket of food (no camera), and the guineas will be in town.  One hen rises to her feet and all the little keets tumble around her legs, like someone dumped out a salad bowl of chicks, and then they scramble into the grass or bushes.

It’s easy to watch them as a group – the adults stick out, but the chicks themselves are still so tiny they vanish in the weeds and can best be perceived by the grass rustling above them.

They’re amazing parents.  Now we’re not sorry to have so many cocks.  They seem to be paired up (one cock went out to get the Lady of the Woods, one coaxed coop mama out), so one cock still needs a lady, but all five travel in a tight bunch, all obviously involved in chickcare – education, herding, and retrieval.

The keets don’t distinguish between mothers.  They move in one crowd, and all go under one hen for warming and nighttime.  16 of them!  I can’t tell the hens apart to look at them, so we don’t know if it’s always the same hen settling on them, but my guess is that they share the job.  The keets and hen settle down in the grass at night, and until last night, the rest of the flock stayed with her.  Last night, the others all got up on the coop.  Which raises a problem:  What happens when 16 chicks are capable of flying up to roost on the coop!?

HW calls the one hen Mama Missile Launcher.  She’s a grass torpedo.  It may be either hen any given time, but it’s always a hen that launches an attack if you get too close.  Charge!  Very scary.  I had picked up the little spinaround keet that got left behind and brought it closer to the group, when the mom charged me, flying right at my face.  I blocked with my arms, and she went over my head, thumping me on the noggin with her feet as she went.  Whapwhapwhap!  I hope the little dizzy chick made it, because I haven’t been involved since.

I’m watching you!

 

Blondies at large

The Blondies have seemingly recovered from the loss of their mom.  It was a very sad few days, for everyone, but they’ve come out from hiding in the bush.

It’s still sad, that they’re orphaned.  No guardian, no snuggling in the dust bath.  They used to cheep all the time, and seem to instinctively know that cheeping is maladaptive when you’re alone in the world.  They don’t cheep very much now. 

They are miniature chickens, grown up early.  They stick together and go all over foraging.  They loosely hang with the Silkies, and go in the coop at night, but they are their own clique, and they’re still just little! 

Out they come

Time to release the guineas!

I made a big ramp with a board, not that I really expect them to come walking down the ramp, and more importantly, piled hay all over the ground and especially over the feet of the coop, where I expect the chicks to all plummet to earth.

Then I carefully removed the screen door, slowly backed away, and plunk!  A chick fell out.  It bounced and rolled in the hay and got stuck face down.  I set it on its feet and Oh no! Another neurological disorder.  Its head was all floppy and it couldn’t stand right.  I snatched it up and held it, and carried it around for a bit.

It wobbled around a bit and then seemed to figure out which way was up and how to stand.    I set up camp to watch the rest exit the coop, wanting to be on hand for any rescues. The chick in my lap turned into a ball of energy, scampering up my arms, down my shirt, so I set it on the ground, and it ran around in tight circles.  Very quickly.  What is wrong with these chicks? 

It ran in circles like it was on a three inch picket, zoom zoom zoom, until it fell over, then got up and did it again.  Circles, circles, circles, peeping.  Then it ran a little bit in a straight line (phew!)  Circle, circle circle…straight line! Like it had to get wound up and then shot out of the centrifugal force.  Fall over, repeat.  The cocks came running over to the chick, and the chick tried to respond, running into their feet, and finding comfort in them, ceasing to peep for its mother, and following them around.  In circles.

Meanwhile, I waited for the hen and her chicks to come out of the coop.  And waited.  And waited and waited.  And some more.

One of the cocks started jumping up on the coop, and going into it, then coming out, jumping down, and doing it again.  He was pretty obviously trying to talk her out.

He’d jump up, stand by the door, look or go in, linger, jump down, and immediately start long necking up at the coop before jumping back up.  Repeat.

He’s using the ramp

Sometimes she would come to the door, sometimes chicks would come to the door, but they weren’t uncoordinated enough to fall out.

Dozens of times he did this trip, up and down, up and down.  Come on out of there!

Ultimately she came out when I wasn’t looking and left the chicks behind, huddled and peeping in the far corner.  I went to scoop them out and she flew at me like a launched missile.  I put on Carhartts and safety glasses and tried again.  There were five little chicks in the coop, plus the dizzy one, and two lay dead among the 14 unhatched eggs (wow, she was sitting on 23 eggs!).

I can’t tell how many chicks in total from both hens, because the chicks tumble around in the grass.  There’s a lot! Vertigo chick integrated into the group even before its mom emerged, but it was always getting left behind.  The others would drift off, and it would look up, find itself alone, and then peep!  zoom around  in circle, and then shoot out straight for a few feet, trying to catch up.  I felt sorry for it, running 3x as far as any of the others and always a bit behind.  But it was managing.

The orphaned guinea chick in the infirmary is possibly improving. It’s gained enough motor skills to control its head and it comes out from under the wing on its own and toddles around. 

It has the strength to struggle against being held, but can barely walk. 

It’s  also very good at getting into scrapes, finding somewhere to get stuck upside down or jammed into, shivering.  I’ve rescued it from the edge of death a few times, forcing it to have a sip of water and then tucking it back under a wing.  The Silkies are so tolerant.  She’s on her eggs, she doesn’t care about any additions.   Funny that one of the Silkie hens was once a  resigned warming oven to the guineas that are adult now.

It’s so cute! I’m caring for it, making it drink and trying to make it eat baby mash of ground up seeds and applesauce, but there’s really no endgame for this chick.  It won’t make it without parenting, and it’s highly unlikely to catch up to be able to keep up with all of its siblings as they travel along.  Maybe though; I’m surprised every time I find it still alive.

Hates it!

The Lady of the Woods

Paranoid about the tragic  loss of Blondie mom, I got downright defeatist over the disappearance in the morning of a guinea cock.  What the?  A guinea cock?  It must be a raptor, snatched him off the coop.  What am I going to do, sit out there all day with a rifle?  Predator problems, just as the guineas are hatching!?

Inside the sky coop, there are chicks.  I can’t tell how many!  Five?

Psycho cobra mom hurls herself at the screen, and the little chicks who sometimes peek out the screen door scurry to the back of the coop, so I don’t know how many there are.

I’ve been nudging bowls of food and water inside the door, and mom doesn’t care why I’m reaching in, she means to take my arm off for it.  Beak to arm: whackwhackwhackwhackwhackwhack! 

Three times a day, so no one gets dehydrated. When they’re empty, I hear her pecking and clanking the dishes together in there.  Sounds like a busy diner.

I quickly learned to tie a string onto the bowls so I can pull them back out instead of reaching in for them.

She’s got no problem eating the food, once I back off, but cut me a break for the delivery?  No way! 

Definitely five

The guinea cocks gave away the hatching.  When we first saw the telltale eggshell, we both said “I knew something was up!” For the previous two days, the three guinea cocks were extra attached to the coop.  Sitting on the roof, looking in, even in the middle of the day.  I think they were excited.  They haven’t stopped, they are animated and keeping close to the new mom.

 

Gazing through the screen door.

But now, only two.  The third, gone all morning.

What’s this?  The guineas were hollering, as they do, and it was sustained, long enough for me to check on them, and I go and Oh!  There he is, coming out of the woods.  I count, yep, three… wait… I count again.  Four.   I check that the screen door isn’t breached.  Four!

No way!  The hen that disappeared two months ago is marching out of the woods, just like I hoped!  With her proud and loud escort, klaxoning the whole way.  He was missing half the day because he went to walk her home, and the others stayed with coop mom!  I’m sure that the cocks have always known where she set, and have been regularly visiting her her whole term.

But does she have chicks?

There she is, very furtive, and yes, there are chicks!  At least two!

She spent all that time, all those rainstorms, no shelter. No snack boxes.  She’s not even acting ravenous.

A triumphant homecoming for the Lady of the Woods.  She came right back to the old digs, hanging around under the sky coop.  The guineas are very familial.  The cocks are very much part of the parenting team.

The chicks are so tiny it’s hard to believe they’re making woods treks already.  They tumble out of the grass and then toddle back in, and don’t stay right with mom.  They’re comfortable getting a ways away..  They are very quiet peepers, unlike a chicken chick that will get piercing (they make up for that later in life).

Also, the attack mom is even more terrifying when she’s not in a box.  She charges like a bull, with no fear.  The wings go up in this flat fronted wall of feathers, and then the red mouth open, and worst, the crazy look in her eye, coming at you!

I dared to walk within 8 feet of her brood and got run at.

Tomorrow, I will open the door to the sky coop, and let them all out into the world.

Orphans

Sad.

The Blondies’ Silkie stepmom has disappeared.  There are no signs of foul play.  Not a feather.  I don’t know what happened to her, or exactly when.  I’ve never lost a bird to a predator in the middle of summer.  Now I can be paranoid all the time.

The Blondies have already learned to go in the coop, are hanging around the Silkie flock, are very clever about hiding in the bushes, and are feathered enough to survive, but it is a sad loss, even just to lose a good mothering hen.  They are without a champion to throw elbows in the food dish.  I suppose hunger will overcome timidity.

The guinea hen in the sky coop also rejected one chick.  It was flopping around with a strange inability to stand or to hold its head up, like it has a neurological disease, or a broken back.

The hen rolled it out to let it die, and HW demanded that I do something to save it.  I said “you stick your hand in that coop”.  (He did)

I tucked the little gibbled chick under the brooding Silkie in the Eggery, and it survived the first night.  I’ve seen a chick once with this weird disability, and it made a full recovery.  So there’s hope, but I don’t hold out too much.

It can look all normal for a bit

 

So cute!
And then its head flops back unnaturally
It struggles to move around. The Silkie hen is very indulgent, allowing us to use her as a heat lamp.

Eggery

I thought the hens would go broody like bowling pins, but not so; they’re all having too much fun outside.  Now the first two hens have chicks out in the wild, nearly grown up, another is finally broody (Only three more yet to brood this year!).  She has Silkie eggs under her, for a change, to replenish the flock (I sold more than I meant to).

Most times when a hen goes broody she sits on the eggs and doesn’t get up.  I can put them in a cramped box with a water cup and snack bowl and they don´t budge until the eggs crack.

This hen is different.  I was sure she was broody, but I kept seeing her outside every mid-morning for an hour or so.  I gave her some eggs, and thought that would change, but six days later, she was faithful to her eggs…as long as she had a breakfast break.  Different.

So I repurposed the vacant chickery, and made a hen apartment in the greenhouse. 

It´s like a little suite.  She has her dark egg room, but she can come out for a drink and scratch, or a dirt bath if she wants.  She even has her own sunflower for a houseplant.  It’s draped over with some canvas to keep it cooler.

Plus there will be no transfer when the eggs hatch.  They will already be in the chickery and just get moved outside.

She’s SO in the zone.  You’d never guess she will shake off that trance for awhile every day,  then return.

Yes, they are fine to get off their eggs periodically, even for hours, especially in the summer.  Brief cooling may even be good for them.  The hen knows best.

 

When they were small…

Now they are scampering around outside with the big flock wearing proper wings and tails and surely thinking they are all grown up, but when they were merely days old…

I was working in the greenhouse, the Chickery was in there with me because the chicks were brand new (they have a few chickery days in the greenhouse before going outside), and the Blondies and their mom were rummaging around in it, as they do.

I noticed she seemed to be digging with unusually single-minded determination in one corner.

I looked in on them once and she had dug a hole.  I thought, any minute, a chick is going to be able to slip out of there.

Before I turned away, one did.

Then another. 

 

When she would pause her digging efforts, a chick would dive in to see if there was anything interesting in the hole, and retreat when dirt started flying again.

Once all the chicks were popping in and out like electrons, I decided it was time for them to go outside. 

I popped a box over top of Mom (highly offended noises), lifted the chickery off and wrestled it outside while the chicks cheeped in the corner.

Then I grabbed the chicks and introduced them to grass.  Then I went back to the grumbling, rattling box, and returned mom to the chicks. 

Outdoors time!