There´s a tribe of chicks in the greenhouse. One mom has 5 Chanticleer chicks, and the other has seven Silkies.
They never shut up! PeeppeeppeepPEEPpeeppeeppeepPEEPpeep. Wow. I don´t know how the Moms handle it, unless lots of it is inter-chick chatting that they can tune out.
Otherwise, it´s Mom, Mom, Mom! MOM, Hey Mom, Look at this Mom, Hey Mom can I eat this? What about this? What´s this Mom? Look what I found Mom, Look at me Mom, I flapped! See how fast I can run? Watch this, Mom!
All. Day. Long.
The Silkies are a week older than the Chantis, so they´re all the same size (so far). The Silkies are already entering their scruffball transition from fluff to feathers. There’s three white and four brown.
Most of these chicks I’ve never even touched. They´re going to be the wildest bunch yet. They were born in a box with an open door, and Mom’s been totally in charge from day 1. I don´t even see them every day.
But boy do I hear them.
They’re all so happy and safe in there, savaging the low-hanging tomatoes, rearranging my mulch, tasting stuff. It’s a rooster-free zone. One Silkie rooster is wont to stand looking in the screen door, fantasizing.
The pigs are rooting. I give them a nice new grassy area that looks like a green pig paradise for about an hour. They like to customize their environment, which means turning over every inch of sod. Very diligent workers. And fast.
I can’t believe it but I’m SO happy. ALL MY BIRDS ARE GETTING ALONG! The one silver lining to the loss of my big rooster is that I don’t have to segregate my birds. Two winters I’ve attempted to divide the greenhouse into two territories, Silkieland and Layerland. I say attempted because there were always breaches no matter what I tried.
First there were the guineas, with the GH all to themselves.
Then there were the two Silkie moms and their nine chicks between them, who got to stay in the greenhouse mostly because of inclement weather.
Then I moved in the layer coop, the day after the rooster was killed. The Silkies had the yard outside for a week of lovely weather, from whence they could see inside through the screen door.
Next I opened the door dividing the flocks, and waited to see what would happen. A few red hens popped out, looked around, ate some grass, and went back in. Hey, the guineas came outside, flew over the fence, and were walking around the other door looking confused. The Silkies did not drift into the greenhouse.
The next morning, the Silkie rooster came barrelling inside when I opened the layer coop. The reason: one of his hens is sleeping in the wrong coop. He chased her a merry race and taught her a lesson, and then raced back outside, where the other rooster was taking advantage of his absence to get some. Life’s hectic for Snowball. He’s got a lot of responsibilities.
They did not integrate on their own until, due to a bad forecast, we lifted the Silkie coop into the GH. These long-suffering coops (Oh, they’ll last a year) are still enduring, still doing their job.
And then, miracles! they all just … got along. The layers drink side by side with the guineas, and the chicks are all up in the middle of everything, as they always have been. Infants of any species seem to get big tolerance passes. They can poop anywhere they like and be grabby and no one pecks them. The guineas are smaller than the layers right now, but they seem to know that’s a temporary state of affairs, and they face off. Staredowns, with their necks stuck out. I’m gonna be bigger than you real soon.
The layers are a bit bossy to the Silkies, but I’ve also seen the rooster run off a rude big hen. YES. I’m so glad it’s working!
Often the guineas are up on the haybales, just watching everyone else.
They still move as an inseparable unit, even if they’re doing different things. Some will be drinking, or eating, and the others will be curled up resting, but right next to them, and then they will all shuffle along together to the next stop.
Now there are five. One guinea disappeared as a very small chick, in the first few days. Actually vanished – I’ve never found a body, and there were no signs of foul play. In September, I found one hen dead in the morning, of unknown causes, like she died in her sleep. All the others came shuffling out of their hay-cave, and one was left, still. I believe there are now two guinea cocks and three guinea hens, judging by size – the differential is growing.
They look much like turkeys to me now, with bald-ish necks, sparse feathers, and they stick their heads out long. So funny/cute! They are “the Africans” or the “little clowns” because they do funny stuff. They are starting to make their weird sounds, and 5pm is the time to practice, every day. Can hear them ten acres away, shouting.
I “cleaned it up” some in the GH. Made some chicken play structures, which they dutifully appreciate.
All the vegetative debris and dead tomato/squash vines are just entertainment for them. Places to run around and hide, and lose a pursuing rooster. They pull down old tomatoes, eat any leftovers, dig, and dirt bathe. It’s a big party. The cardboard boxes too. They always like standing up on things.
There’s still a truckload of wood chips in there that I pushed aside to plant in, and a great deal of hay, so lots of carbon, and I’ll bring in more if I need to. It smells good, not like a chicken concentration camp. My hens will lay all winter in the greenhouse.
At first the layers weren’t sure. They weren’t allowed in the GH all summer, now they aren’t allowed out? They like to slip out the door behind me when I carry something in. Then five minutes later they’re outside standing on one foot in the frost, looking at me. This was a bad idea! All the food’s in there!
Soon I’m going to introduce a new rooster. He’s a gorgeous young bird, a Copper Maran, big but gentle. I’ve been telling my hens I’m about to set them up with him. I have a younger man for you to meet! I’m hoping that if he’s introduced to an unfamiliar room where the Silkie rooster already rules the roost, they won’t have a bloodbath fight. Because the Silkie would lose. This is why I’ve had to keep the flocks separate before.
I know that the space is too big for one rooster to rule, because the second rooster has started to crow! The poor, put-upon, brown beta rooster, who’s molting with anxiety, has enough literal space now to figuratively spread his wings. I hope to give them each a flock and enclosure of their own next year.
All the birds love salad. I thought I was just being lazy, letting a patch of salad greens go to seed, the mizuna growing into beachball sized clouds, and mustard greens into stalks my height and as thick as my wrist that tipped over under their own weight, but I was actually being brilliantly foresightful. I’m going to do it on purpose next year. The chickens love a good salad. I carry in an armload of greens, sprinkle it in a line along the open side of the GH, and all the birds move in, ripping and picking, all mixed up together in inter-avian harmony. Makes it quiet real quick.
The Silkies especially think that the thing to do with turnip tops is to pick them up and whack! them on the ground. It’s not the usual chicken lift and drop, it’s very aggressive, like they’re flail threshing. What’s really funny is a chick trying to do it to a foot-long turnip frond. That’s like a person taking a 30 foot pine tree and whacking it on the ground. It works about as well for the chick, but they try.
I thought they might be into cold-hardy greens considering what they did to the volunteer kale.
The incursion of the birds has pushed out the rodent population, as I hoped. The numbers are now down to one very bold resident squirrel. I hope he gets pecked. Chipmunks are gone.
Now that the coops are in the greenhouse the first Silkie with aspirations above her station has told a friend. Two Silkies are going into the layer hens’ coop to lay eggs! The one is still sleeping in there. Her chicks are convinced they sleep in the cardboard box still, and every night have to be chucked into their coop.
In the morning, I let the Silkies out first while I do everything, to give them a little advantage, first beak in the trough, before opening the layers. They know. They can hear, and they grumble! The rooster comes and waits at the bottom of the ramp for the Silkie hen to traipse out, then he pounces! Every morning. He knows she’s in there.
A couple of days before we moved the Silkie coop into the greenhouse, I got paranoid about the Silkie moms sleeping on the ground, and I popped the two moms and their chicks into the layer hen coop after dark, using the less favored nest boxes. They seemed happy. The one hen was already laying in there, after all. Then the third night, oh no.
One hen, the mom of two, had three chicks under her (sleepover!). The other (less intelligent) six were huddled in the box where their mom had taken to sleeping. No mom. I put them all away and start sweeping the greenhouse with a light. Uhoh. UhohUhohUhoh. She’s not there.
Finally it occurs to me to check the coop, and there she is! She’s lined up on the rail with the big red birds, head down. In fact, I could hardly see her because they’re all so much bigger. She’s done with chicks and moving on up with her life.
She’s big for a Silkie hen, but still! Who does she think she is? I can’t believe they tolerate her.
Big news of the day: Whattt? A bantam egg?! On their 51st day here, when we’re past expecting them to ever lay, the Silkies get in the game and come out of nowhere with an egg!
Perhaps all the fertility going on is contagious. As tiny as it is, it surprises me that’s it’s that big, because the petite handfuls that the Silkie hens are are SO much smaller than the big red hens. It’s translucent and pointy, but with a firm shell.
We go to town to buy fencing (urgent due to chicken depredation) and end up doing many other things. It’s too wet for the big chickens to venture far from the coop (ie. do much damage to the garden); they cluster under its shelter, and at night, there are three staying up later than the others, and one nestled in the grass nest again. They traipse upstairs irritably but with much less drama. No eggs outside, that we can find, anyways; seven laid inside (good girls). We can assume the lobster-hen is out of commission at the moment and the others take some days off. I notice that they shift some nesting material and the plastic eggs from box to box; H.W. reiterates wish for a night-vision chicken cam. “What do they DO in there when no-one’s looking?”
Clearly a cooler atmosphere is what the hairy little Silkies were missing in life. They now have shade or dappled sunlight most of the day, and they are obviously very happy. It’s nice and cool where they are, right into the hot afternoon. They get much more privacy now too, farther from our work zones (nearer camper). It’s fun to go check on them, see what they’re up to at various times, just doing their chicken thing. They don’t work very hard. Graze a little, writhe a little in the dust. High-stepping adventuring around, just a few feet from the coop. Lots of dozy low nestling in various places, making for a Where’s Waldo chicken hunt in the grass, for little tufty heads. They have nearly zero impact on their surroundings, being so small. They hardly eat any feed when they eat veg all day. Low cost. Very low maintenance. And low compensation. So they better be low cost, the little freeloaders.
We moved the little chickens into the treeline. Now they are always the “little chickens”, because they are. We are still looking and hoping for big chickens.
They are still in the first, big coop, but we moved them to the edge of the field to give them more shade. It’s working. They are spending more of the day outside.
Immediately, they started ranging farther from the coop. It was funny for me to walk down the path towards them with some scraps and see the rooster striding purposefully up the path towards me, before he saw me and beat a retreat.
Now we are done with the garden so we don’t have their entertainment there.
They must be hot in their fluffy fur coats. And hats. And sweatpants.
I’d been holding out for getting some steel to put a roof on the mini coop because I really wanted to make the roof/access significantly lighter. No more heavy lifting. But then, Arthur came through, and the first coop endured the storm without a hint of difficulty or damage. Yay, sturdy and heavy – did not blow open or over. I decided that weight is great, and put the same lead roof on the mini: wood, flat asphalt, and shakes. Materials at hand win out again. The whole coop is a little lighter because smaller and the lid is easier to open because it’s hinged at the low side of the slope. Even though I slapped this one together more carelessly, it looks a bit nicer. It certainly went together much faster – building a second version usually does. I like the design- simple, secure, portable, does what it needs to. How we are going to swap the birds into this coop is what could get a bit interesting.
The first month. In which, difficulties “training” chickens to utilize new accommodations emerge.
Crowing. Early, loud, and continuous.
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.
We 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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?
What the heck?
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?
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. 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.
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.
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.
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..?
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.
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.
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.
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.
H.W. loves it. “Hey in there! Whatcha doing? Roosting? That’s right, I see you!”
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.”
All ready to release the birds into their new home!
Excited, we carried the box of birds up from the car and put it on the floor inside the coop.
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.