Tag Archives: chickens

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.

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.

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.

Jean jacket chicken

I have one chicken having a hard time.  She´s a low chicken – the lowest – I call her Sidewinder because of her habitual cringing deferential walk.  She arrived like that.  She had a chance at a fresh start – no one knew she was a low chicken before – but she blew it.  Creeping and ducking – she got pegged as low from the beginning.

She´s molted, so she was practically naked.

Her wing shoulders were getting all raw too, from the rooster’s attention, but that problem is eliminated along with the rooster.  Jacques went in the pot for repeated bad behavior, and it was high time.  I couldn´t go out there without a stick and I counted on the protection of the Colonel.  He was very good looking, but a good-looking jerk.  Now it´s much more peaceful in chicken land, for everyone.

Then I think she had a close call with a raptor (unusual in the spring – perhaps it was a spat with a peer).  I think so because there was an alarming feather splotch by the trail, and I had heard a shriek, but then there was no one missing, and Sidewinder turned up with the last few cling-on feathers on her back gone.  Totally naked.

But now she has a jean jacket.

 

I was at my friend’s (Spoiled Rotten Chicken Club, chapter III), and half her flock was running around in jean jackets.  It was cool, rainy weather, of course.  She´d made a whole rack of them from a pattern on the internet.  I couldn´t stop laughing.  The ones in jackets looked tough, or swaggery, like they were proud of their duds.  And the colouring of some of the Ameracaunas with grey-blue wings in their jackets was uncanny.

It’s like Toad Hall, or (some other UK childrens’ stories where the animals all wear vests and/or cravats) come to life. 

She gave me one for my beleaguered naked chicken, and she’s rocking’ it.  A little warmth, a little sun protection, and a little peck barrier.  It hasn´t seemed to gain her any status though.

HW says they all need club patches.

The walnut tree roosters

The funniest thing about the arrival of the Brahmas is the reaction of the Silkie roosters – the two “exiles” as I call them, since they don´t interact with the main tribe and mostly hide in the coop.  Or did, until the Brahmas came.

I think they feel they´ve gone to heaven since the Brahmas arrived.  The second night they were sandwiched between the big pillowy ladies.  I  haven´t been this comfortable since I was a chick. 

And ever since they´re really coming out of their shell.  No more hiding in the coop.  They hang all day in the shrub with the Brahmas, who really just lie around.

The big sign of transformation is that they are starting to crow!  It´s not pretty (whoa, is there a rooster gargling over there?).  That means they are feeling very good about themselves.  Looks like some new copper tail feathers are coming in too.  I’m glad they’re so happy.

They don’t mate the big girls (larger than they are).  They seem perfectly content to snuggle.

Good looking guys.

I call them the walnut tree tribe – the mixed bunch of chickens who have decided they live in the small coop under the walnut.  They are a distinct group now.  Mom and the Oreos, the two roos, and the Brahmas.  They interact surprisingly little with the Silkies who moved into the big coop, who live just at the other end of the greenhouse.  The guineas and layer hens freely visit either tribe, and a couple of layers drop off eggs in the small coop.

Granny and Grampy having a moment

I was lucky to see and capture Granny and the Colonel sharing an affectionate moment.

These two are the last remaining of my original Silkies that arrived in 2014.  Presumably they are the same age.  They could easily be 5 or more years old now. 

They were just standing in the shade together for a few minutes, while the other Silkies dust bathed on the other side of the tree.

Granny even offered a little grooming.

Adorable!

Granny is doing extremely well.  I thought she was on her way out a while ago, but since the hens all moved outside for the summer, she´s been toddling around with the best of them.  I think she can´t see as sharp; she doesn´t bounce out of the way like the others and you have to not step on her.

Planting in the greenhouse

This is from a month ago, May 1, but I  was so demoralized by how the day ended that I didn’t finish posting.  Until now.

The chickens no longer live in the greenhouse, and it’s time for the green things to go in.  I got in there with the broadfork, breaking up the rows.  Tomatoes first, against the north wall.

After having all the birds wintering in the “chicken dome”, the soil looks, well, awful.  It looks compacted and desiccated.  It would have fooled me.  But that´s not the case. 

The top quarter inch or so is dry, and compacted.  When I crack it with the broadfork, that top crust breaks up in scales, and right underneath, the ground is wet as anything, no harder than anywhere outside where chickens haven´t been trampling, and so very full of worms.

Worms everywhere.

Really big worms.

 

So the hens got very excited.  They were following right on my fork, poking their heads down into the holes to fish out worms, and vigorously scratching up the flakes of crust.  They were feasting.

Until I decided they were being a little too hard on the worms, who didn´t have a fair chance, and I evicted the chickens.

I hung up a sheet of row cover (if there´s anything else around I use for so many things it wasn´t intended for, I don´t know) the length of the greenhouse to wall off the side I was working on from the side I wasn´t going to get to today.  The birds can play on that side.

I let one chicken stay with me – my favorite low chicken. 

She can use some extra worms.  She was actually perturbed at being alone with the others on the other side of the cloth (they could see each other through it), but she was consoled by the worms.

You see, it was a rainy day.  A drizzly morning, forecasted to be a thundering downpour day, so I didn´t have the heart to shut my birds out of the greenhouse to crowd, disgruntled and soggy, under their coops.

The guinea´s thinking about it  Looks drier in there.

As it got wetter, the birds steadily found their way into the vast shelter of the greenhouse. 

Inside, I kept working, attended by low chicken, while the rain drummed on the plastic and the birds all trickled in, chirruping and shaking off, pleased to be let back into the greenhouse.

 

 

 

It was really very cool to spend all day with my birds.  It´s nice to listen to them chat, complain, brag;  I could peek over and see what they´re up to.

They´re always doing something funny: piling up on the hay sacks, trying to have a bath in the roots of the fig tree (naughty!)

Planting the tomatoes out is a big day.

From past experience, I just break up the ground a bit with the broadfork, and plant directly into the ground as is. No turning! After I drew the rows with the broadfork, it was time to plug tomatoes.

Here´s where I found out how well my newspaper pots made out: the answer- excellently.

I tore off the top ring where I had written in Sharpie the kind of tomato, and left that by or around the plant as a marker.  Then I tore off the rest of the paper and was left holding a tall root ball.

On the other side of the wall, the chickens had the time of their life shredding all that scrap newspaper that I´d put in a box, and littering it all over the room, the scamps.

Chickens, I´ve observed, spend a lot of time lounging.  Most of the afternoon is devoted to sunbathing, dirt bathing, combing their feathers, or napping.  On this rain day, they were piled up, murmuring, dropping their heads for a nap or settling right down into sleep pancakes.  Others would be active, picking at something – they never all fall asleep at once, but it seems like someone´s always contentedly napping in the afternoon.

 

At the end of the day, tired, with 70 tomatoes and a few pepper plants planted, I turned in.  It was still pouring rain and the chickens were awake, so I just them in the greenhouse.  There´d been no attempts on the wall, or breaches, so I was confident.

I was working on this post, before going out to close them up.  There had also been a surge in squawking I was wondering about. …

Disaster!  Carnage!

The wall was breached- one end down, and every single tomato plant was defoliated- not a leaf left!  Just a roomful of puny green stems.  A couple of hens not gone to bed yet, finishing off the devastation.  Next time you can get wet, you ingrates!

Before I went to bed I planted some more tomato seeds, but to say it was a major loss is a major understatement.  I had some spare plants, but not an entire spare crop.  I was NOT HAPPY.  Completely defeated, more like.

As it turned out, despite the significant trauma of being beheaded, the same day as transplanted, almost all the tomatoes survived.  Only five were broken off by the hens and therefore terminated.

It was a definite setback, but in the next couple weeks they regrew some awkward leaves, and then left that early bad memory behind.  Now you wouldn´t know it had ever happened, although they might be a week or two behind where they might have been.

Tomatoes today:

 

 

 

 

Spring

Gosh, it´s been too long – I´ve been so busy!  It´s garden and greenhouse time – very busy.  Everyone is well, the piglets are no longer -lets, just pigs, the bees are busy, the hens are entertaining and entertained.  I have lots to share…but for now, a glimpse:

The bunnies are grazing in the field alongside the hens and robins.  They are almost all brown- some have tufts of white fur that haven´t fallen out yet, making them distinguishable.  There´s always a rabbit around with a frond of greenery hanging out of its mouth.  Low-speed chases happen – I suspect they are mating chases.

 

Sometimes I accidentally count the bunnies in with the guinea fowl.

The guineas stick closer to home than I initially expected.

And traveling as a pack, which I love.  They´re all friends.

They can really get into a good dust bath too.

The dust bath is the most popular activity of the season, now that there are warm sunny days to laze around in and  wile away the hours sticking a leg out awkwardly…

This is the guinea spot in the woods, right by our path.  I suspect she´s laying her eggs here.  Can you see all three?

This is the hen who thinks she´s a Silkie, always hangin´ with the fluffballs.

The Silkie tribe is becoming adventuresome (safety in numbers?), and every day venture a little farther into the woods to skritch in the leaves, or come a few feet farther down the path to the house.

Led by their intrepid leader, the Colonel:

The bees are full team ahead hauling in pollen. (I meant “steam”, but that makes more sense)

Returning a soggy bee to the hive, incoming bees use my hand for a landing strip.

First springy day.

I was in shorts all day today.  The snow earlier this week is all gone in the clear areas, and it was warm!  These are the loveliest days of spring. The (very few) days before all the bugs come out.  It would have been the first barefoot day of the year, but I cannot go barefoot here.  Thorns everywhere – berry brambles and hawthorn, and I’ve had a hawthorn in my foot before.  Alas, here I live in boots. The mud season is here. This year the robins are back long before the spring peepers.  The peepers will announce the bugs.

My bees obviously made it through the winter well, having a good fly today in the blessing of the sun.  It seems like all of them are facing the hive – the backwards flight, calibrating on the hive location.

The pigs are captive and content, so things are a whole lot less exciting around here lately- thankfully!

Tail wag – munching grass

They’re getting into rooting like old pros in the soft ground now.

This is Adventure Pig (A.P.), the great escape ringleader

And warming up to me.  They come snorting up the camera, and then scamper away.

The hens were having a good day in the mud world today.  I saw them slurping up worms like spaghetti.  The chickens don’t know it, but these are their last days sleeping in the greenhouse.  As soon as the rain is done, their coops are out!  I´m sure they can’t wait; there´s a week of sun coming, and they´ll be released outside at first light (as opposed to the past frosty interim days, where I keep them locked up until mid-morning when it warms up.  .  Summer chicken life – FREEdom!

Inside the chicken dome it was spa in the sun time.  They make divots all over to bathe in, today’s location (odd) was by the figs and feed sacks (oh well).

Knocked one over

I lone that I got this picture proof of how well they get along.  As a generality, they tend towards their own birds, but as individuals, the layers and bantams can get in the bath together.  I´m so grateful they’re successfully integrated, because I won’t have to surround the Silkies this year to protect them from the other chickens.  They can be free ranging too.  It will be interesting to see how much space they actually use now the flock is so much bigger.  Silkies barely “range” at all.

Rare sighting: the bathing chicken

At the beginning of the winter when the chickens were first incarcerated in the greenhouse for the season, we prepared some bird baths.

Inspired by my neighbour, who brings warm (room temperature) sand from her house to the hen house (hot bath!), I put a bunch of mud on the woodstove to heat up.

I shoveled the mud out of a couple of popular summer-time hen bathing holes, where, when it wasn’t soaking wet, it was fine dust.  The old style metal crisper trays were perfect for heating on the wood stove.

It took days to dehydrate the dirt.  It cracked like the desert, made little popping volcano vents, and then we’d break it up and cook it some more.  HW stirred it assiduously,  raving about how much those lucky birds were going to enjoy these baths, and pronouncing it not yet ready, day after day.

Finally, the bird baths- heavy with warm, finely stirred, premium dirt- went out to the greenhouse.   I was looking forward to seeing the birds enjoy them, too, probably in the lazy, sunny, afternoon.  I expected to hear excited clucking, to find two hens and the oversized rooster jammed in one bin at once and overflowing the sides, legs sticking out in odd directions….

and I never saw them.  Not one single solitary sighting of a chicken getting her dirt bath on.

They were definitely using it.   They were using it with vigour.  There was a dirt radius around each bin.  Feathers in the dirt.  Week by week, the level in each bin went down.  Every time a chicken bathes, she covers herself thoroughly with dirt, then gets up, walks out, and shakes herself off like a dog, making a Pigpen puff of dust.  This slowly erodes the dirt capital.

Months passed.  Then last week, I caught a brown hen in the bath!  I crept back from the door, went for my camera, and of course, she was finished her ablutions  by the time I got back with it.  One sighting in months – the odds were poor that I’d ever catch another.

But I did!  I didn’t waste time going for my camera but used my damaged phone – a sighting!

Seen as though in a dream…

 

Days out

It´s so nice and sunny so many days now, and the ground is exposed, so the hens are getting open-door days!  Spring time!

When I come around, they always pout at me through the screen door:

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Please! Can we come out?! We’ll be good!

When I open the door they pop out like corks but mill around the door, tentative.

Really? We can come out today?!

It’s so nice to see them outside, in the sunshine.img_5488

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The leghorn legging it off on her own

In no time, they’ll be sprinting down the path to the house, like the last one there is a rotten egg.

Play structure day

It was rearranging time again in the greenhouse, which is a big party for all the birds.

First their hay bale play structure was on the north side of the greenhouse, now it’s going to the south. The bales are really disintegrating now, but that’s ok.  They don’t have to last much longer.

Funny, the most action is not where I’m removing the hay bales from, but where I’m putting them.  There’s a bale here now where formerly there was not?  Fascinating!img_5384

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One hay bale

Immediately they have to stand all over it and discuss.

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Three hay bales

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Look how high the snow is outside!

Now they’re starting to get interested in what’s exposed on the other side of the room.

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She knows what’s good

 

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All done!

I love the rooster mincing across the high wire.  And the guinea on the right.

As usual, the layers tired of the gym and the Silkies came and established their clubhouse.  img_5394

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Snow’s even higher on the non-sun side.

Poultry podiatry

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some hang their legs out straightMy poultry podiatry methods have advanced.  Still a hilarious procedure though.

Instead of a miticide foot bath, followed by Vaseline, I’ve found that the best approach is just to Vaseline the little feet, and preferably, do it again 2-3 days later.  Even if they have it bad (it being the scaly leg mite that’s such a problem for Silkies in particular), the Vaseline softens up the scales and the unwanted stuff sloughs right off.  I think it would be enough to treat them like this 3 or 4 times a year for a preventative.

Plus it’s way easier than organizing a tub of warm water.  Just have a rag on hand to wipe your greasy hand on before touching their feathers again.

some hold them up in front of them

I don’t wait for night any more either.  I used to put a toque over their heads to grab them out of the coop at night.  I think partly they’re just used to the routine now and are resigned to it.  I can do it any time of day.  Everyone screams when they’re first grabbed, but then as soon as you start rubbing their feet, they quiet right down and hold still.  They seem to thoroughly enjoy it.  Who doesn’t love a foot rub?

img_5308 img_5304 img_5303 My chickens’ feet are doing quite well now.  With the feathered feet, Silkies almost always have scaly mite, and show it fast- the white “dust” on their black skin.  Almost every flock of any kind of hens I’ve seen has scaly mite to some degree, but it’s less noticable on layer hens, until they get old.

I’ve gone through the Silkies twice this winter with Vaseline treatment, and my layers once, some of whom arrived with bad visible scaly mite troubles, and now everyone’s legs look very good, except the three oldest Silkies, whose legs are merely “not bad”.  They arrived afflicted years ago, and I haven’t really hoped to eradicate it in my flocks, but to keep it well controlled.

make sure to get the legs up to the joint

I’ve heard that the true cure for Scaly mite is oregano!  Put oregano in their feed, or oil of oregano in their water, and the mites jump right off their legs!  Exciting to know a possible cure, but it will be a while before enough evidence is gathered.

Can I please be put down now?

Shifting play structures

I moved the haybale play structure from its former location in the south corner of the greenhouse…

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…to the opposite side of the greenhouse.

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Long necks- everyone is curious

I have about 9 bales left, that are very dry and falling apart, that I am cycling through the coops as bedding and then to the garden for mulch.  img_4595While stored in the greenhouse, the bales  are providing caves, entertainment, and vantage points for the bored birds.  And carbon for the ground.

I dropped one unstrung bale into the middle of the room.  There’s little they like more than to take apart a bale of hay.  The normally uptight guineas, in a rare moment of repose, used it to cash out in the sunshine, and fell mercifully silent for a good hour.

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The haybale move –my every move closely monitored by short attendants – served two purposes.  The sitting haybales had kept a big patch of dirt wet and scratchable, so each bale I moved, the hens rushed in behind me to dig. It’s fun to work among the hens, them all up in my business, making interested noises, having their own dramas.

The new play structure was a novelty, therefore highly entertaining to explore.

You know when something is overwhelmingly interesting when ALL the birds fall silent.  They’re that busy.  Too absorbed to talk about it, to make announcements. Then little burbles of speculation.

All three of the resident breeds explored the new apparatus, hopping up and over it and sidestepping along the high poles, but – I didn’t anticipate this- the Silkies wholly claimed it as their own.

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Tentative inspection
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Heads down, butts up. At least three days worth of fascination in the former location.

Three dead mice were unearthed, precipitating the inevitable lively mouse run.

img_5064After a thorough inspection and finding it pleasing, the Silkie tribe moved in en masse… img_5057

and settled in for some hard lounging.

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I’m going to move the bales at least once more, and I expect similar excitement and results.  In return they will thoroughly distribute a mulch layer in the greenhouse for me.

 

 

Great White Flakes

Outside the snow is falling heavy in thick white flakes.  5-10 cm on its way.  Parts of New Brunswick are still without power, eight days after an ice storm that only grazed Nova Scotia.

img_5188It made the trees glassy, bent them to thump on the windows, and pruned  branches that fell to clutter our paths.

Inside, the hair band is posing:img_5189

The big birds are sharing a snack of kale.img_5156

This one has figured out how to stand on the kale and rip it apart.  As opposed to beating it on the ground.  img_5216And a novelty snow cone ball splat.  There’s a few that love eating snow and ice.  I know not why.  img_5021

Egg production is up, and it’s cozy in the greenhouse, but colder temps are coming…

Driving Ms. Daisies

There’s little I enjoy more than driving home new hens.  Usually in some ersatz container – sheet over stock tank, random boxes. Today my coat over a box with no bottom.

I like carrying them hugged in my arm for the first time, telling them they’re going to a new home now, their heads bobbing around looking at everything from 4´ higher up than usual.  Sliding them into the carrying container du jour.  The quiet that falls once we get on the road, broken by a few questioning little chirps from the backseat, some shuffling on tight corners.  I sing to them, or play the radio

Today I picked up three hens I hadn’t known I would be, leftovers from the year’s laying flock that were hanging around as outlaws in the barn.  I can’t resist a good hen, especially when it’s otherwise doomed.

They’re nice.  Low hens, tame and easy to catch. Curious, as they always are, but laid back.  In the dark I carried the broken-bottomed box of birds on my forearms, with their feet sticking through and grabbing onto me, from my truck to the greenhouse  to tuck them into the coop, their new home.

Tomorrow they will meet the rooster.

It’s a big playground in the greenhouse now

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.

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When they were small

img_4449 First there were the guineas, with the GH all to themselves.

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Hey can we come in there?

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.

img_4604Then 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.

img_4578Next 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.

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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.

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Or behind it
Or behind it

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.

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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.

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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.img_4586

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.img_4574 img_4577

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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.

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The mother of seven sleeps in here, and lays in here

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.

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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.

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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.

 

Coop infiltration continued

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.

One of these is not like the other
One of these is not like the other

Chickens.  They never cease to amuse.

 

Guy Hawks Day

Remember, remember the 5th of November.

My most excellent fine rooster was killed this morning, presumably by a hawk.

I presume a hawk because I witnessed, in the woods just a few meters from our door, a big hawk attempt to grab a chicken.  The undergrowth was dense, the hawk fumbled her and the hen got away.   She sprinted into the woods screaming and the hawk flew up into a low branch where it stared coolly at me until I started shouting at it.

Oddly, I didn’t hear the rooster.  The silence was strange, and all the hens had hidden themselves.  A bit later, I still couldn’t find any hens, until I was collecting eggs and was shocked to find seven hens huddled in the coop, middle of the morning.

At the end of the day when I came home, the hens were still completely weirded out, extremely subdued (most just hunkered on the ground) and not eating.  To anthropomorphize, I would say they were distraught.  Only the leghorns were behaving normally, scratching and pecking.  They had only known him a few days.

I knew then the rooster was gone, and in a clearing a fair distance away I eventually found a tiny bit of him – a clean breastbone with the bones of one wing attached.  There were barely even enough feathers to identify – he was almost completely consumed.   He was a big bird, he was a feast for someone.

It’s sad to lose him, he was an excellent rooster.  He was at least five years old, and didn’t have any plume feathers left in his tail, but he was still very handsome and what really matters: he cared for the hens surpassingy well. He was definitely appreciated his whole time with us.

He did his job right to the bitter end, saving all of the hens.

 

new hens

I’ve got new hens!  Four new-to-me deliveries, two reds and two leghorns (people often get rid of hens this time of year- most of my layers are handmedowns).  What a novelty, to have white eggs!  They got right on it too, one leghorn laying in the coop on her first morning.  She’s the fast learner.  Came walking down the ramp on her first day.img_4682

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We picked them up after dark, and I carried them home in a box on my lap, petting them through the cardboard flaps.

I didn’t have much of a choice, I put them into the coop with the others, and had to hope the rooster would handle welcoming committee duties, as he has before.  I pushed his usual concubines aside and tucked the new hens right in next to him, to bond.

Well, Day One dawned, and I let down the ramp.  Leghorn One trotted down the ramp with the others, and joined them at the trough.

I waited.

I lifted the lid on the coop.  The remaining three were huddled there in panic, just until they all burst flapping out of the open lid and ran away squawking.  So I left.  That’s no good.  That means they will not no where to return to at night, and they didn’t.

I tiptoed back later, and the new hens were all milling around the coop, eating.  And so was the rooster!  He was hanging out with the new girls!  Most of the old girlfriends had decamped to the house after breakfast like they always do.img_4502

I like the way leghorns look, with their ultra-stiff erect tails.

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I know what to do with a nest box

And their floppy combs, often flapped over one eye, like an ill-fitting beret.

HW says they remind him of Beatniks, and if he creeps up real quiet, maybe he’ll hear some chicken jazz, or a poetry slam going down.

At night, as predicted, they hunkered down in the brush a few feet from the coop.  It took several days of nightly scooping for them to get the idea, one at a time, that they live in the coop.

They’re sweet little things. They’re very tame.  They come right up to me, and let me touch them.  The rooster spends all his time with them now, staying with them as they ever so slowly expand their scope outward from the vicinity of the coop.

The new girls don’t know that the greenhouse is off-limits, and blithely trot in behind me.  Don’t mind if I do!  Hm, good stuff in here.img_4499

Then I get to shoo them out.img_4501

One is very low on the chicken totem pole.  Cringe-ingly subservient, as pictured top-of-post.  She had a chance to make a new start, but missed it.  I should call her Violet, as in “shrinking”.  She’s always got her head low, ducking and genuflecting.

They’re getting the hang of having the world to roam in though:img_4471

As these hens went tentatively trotting down the path after the others, I thought They’re gonna fit right in!

A couple nights later, I come home and go to feed them chicken supper, and there are no leghorns.  Oh no, did they get eaten because they’re white?  All the other hens show up for dinner, but the leghorns.  I look all over.  As a last resort, I check inside the coop.  They’ve already gone to bed!  They are the early birds.  Early to bed, early to rise, first down the ramp in the morning, with an egg already laid.

Chicken treats – cucumbers!

Few things incite as much excitement as giving cucumbers to the Silkies.

The rooster loses his mind chirping, and all the little furballs go scurrying around, grab and going with a cucumber round, crying if they can’t find one (especially the chicks – they know something excellent is happening and they’re missing out), trying to find someplace private to eat their cucumber if they have one….

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I have to distribute enough slices so that everyone has at least one.

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Then it gets real quiet.

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Until they start to get Cucumber is Greener on the Other Side ideas.

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They hollow out the centers first, sometimes leaving the outer rings until the next day.img_4407

The upside of drought

We’ve had an epic atypical drought this year in Nova Scotia this year.  Especially inland where we are.  The coasts have had more rain. We have had about 25mm total from May through August.

Everything is parched.  Forest fires are raging in the area, wells are running dry, and the impact on agriculture is making the news.

The ground is dry, cracking, and powdery anywhere it doesn’t have a vegetal cover.  Wind blows skirls of dust across the ground.

However, these are ideal conditions for chicken bathing.

20160803_102807I come around the corner and find the rooster indulging.  He’s doesn’t usually get caught in the bath.20160803_102812

He just looked at me, and declined to lift his Henry VIII body out of his dust bowl.20160803_102944

 

 

Waiting for rain

It’s that kind of day.

It’s been so hot, for so long.  Everything is parched, tired, thirsty.  Fire risk is high.

Every day I haul water to keep the greenhouse and garden residents alive.

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My broccoli is thriving!  A surprise.  Cabbages utterly failed last year, so I thought cruciferae didn’t agree with my garden.

Also I have 5 asparagi! (yeah yeah, asparguses).  Asparagus is the first thing we ever planted, our first month here, but that attempt didn’t take.  The asparaguys wanted a more prepared bed.  Now they seem happy.

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A honeybee working a blackberry cane by the well.

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We’re standing on a pile of sticks. What’s it to ya?

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I tried to add my fingers for scale. didn’t really help

I found this enormous spider.

She was bigger than my cell phone is wide.

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Everywhere, snakes.  Snakes like it hot.

From toads to hens

I love toads.  I’ve always been crazy about them.   For some reason.   I used to build elaborate toad mansions under the back porch when I was young, hoping to entice the toads that got trapped in the window wells to stay.  Occasionally, they obliged.

Grown up, I’m happy to learn that toads eat slugs and are therefore a gardener’s best friend.  This is good, because I’m already friends with them.  I like their simple, clumsy toad ways.   And the grumpy faces.  I have to reprise some mansion-building in the garden to make it more comfortable there for them.

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I tossed out some rhubarb leaves, expecting the hens to definitely not eat them.  Surprise!  Later on, the leaves were completely skeletonized.

Edit: Rhubarb leaves are super poisonous!  The oxalic acid can kill animals, or us, if we eat many many rhubarb leaves.  Put it on the list, with styrofoam, of proof that chickens do not know what they should and shouldn’t eat.

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The Robin is not nesting in her usual spot.  We saw her earlier, and now she is conspicuously absent, so she is likely sitting on eggs at the moment.  When they hatch and she has to feed them, then we will know where her nest is.  She acts all sly and sneaky when she’s feeding her chicks but totally gives away where they are.

I’m hoping that she has finally moved out of the Robin Shed, so called since she has raised at least one clutch of chicks every year we’ve been here in a  nest above the door.  Perhaps she has finally deemed it unfit for avian habitation, and we will finally be able to tear it down.

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The Silkies are soooo pleased to be outside.  I feel guilty for not getting them outside much sooner (they stayed late in the greenhouse this spring).  Suddenly they spend all day outside poking around, and lounging in this corner where the grass is longer.  I see this photo makes it look like they are wistfully looking at the greener grass beyond their entrapment, but that’s not the case.   Someone must be passing by.  A nosy red chicken.

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I like the walnut trees with their early leaves on the tips of the branches.  They are exotic and kind of ornamental.

Chicken Vay Cay Day!

On warm days, I let the chickens out  to play.  Whoohoo!

They resent their incarceration in the greenhouse in the winter.  They  glare balefully.  We are bored out of our tiny skulls!  They do not buy that it’s for their own good.  We’ve got survival skills, yo!

Which they do.  They make themselves at home all day in the forest, scratching.  They can take care of themselves outside, even doing some winter camping, but I prefer them to have more protection against the raptors that are hungrier in the winter.  So they must mostly stay in.

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This winter has been weird.  Three times now, all the snow has been swept away in a big rain and warm spell.  It’s not a good look.  But the hens are happy.  They get periodic outings.  Not like last winter, when the snowpack stayed a meter thick, and no one came out of the greenhouse for the entire season.

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New chickens

With all the young hens around him these days, the rooster reminds me of an aging rock star with a bunch of groupies.

I added a handful of pullets in November.   Now this year’s additions outnumber the old originals.

Naturally, they chose their own methods of integrating with the flock.

I moved them in at night, gave them a sawhorse to perch on, and carefully strung up  a canvas barrier, so that they could spend a day of two learning that they live in the greenhouse now.

Right.  The moment that I released the hens in the morning, flap flap flap!  One of the new additions burst right over the canvas and rushed right into the middle of the others.  Scratching like she’d always been there, she was instantly indistinguishable from the other pullets.

Just great.  Now when I open up the greenhouse, she’s not going to have any idea where she is or how to get back.  Sure enough, a few minutes after all the hens file out and down the path the usual direction, there’s the one hen wandering in the grass, cooing querulously.  At least now I know which one she is.

I started to chase her; herding working as well as it usually does.  She had that natural chicken talent of plunging off into something dense at the last minute before going where you want her to.  So I chased her, and she got more and more agitated, and louder, and finally, she was screaming and flapping away from me hot on her henny heels, and… finally, the rooster got involved.

He started making pronouncements and she started veering towards his voice and all the other hens squawking in sympathetic anxiety.  Roo to the rescue; he came running, pounced on her, mated her, and that was that.  She belonged to the flock, and she was by the rooster’s side all day (I learned to recognize her by the colour of her legs).

The other new hens were not quite so bold, and deferred to my plan for them for a whole day.  After a day of looking cornered and anxious, they flew over the barrier too, and came back to the greenhouse at night perfectly.