Tag Archives: free range chickens

Fowl weather shelters

Because I want my chickens to be comfortable  at all times (Spoiled Rotten Chicken Club, Ch II), when it rains I run out and drape their coops with plastic to make a tent.

This has drawbacks, not the least of which is that it looks like some old plastic bags blew through the field and got snagged.  It takes time to put them up and tie off the corners, it’s a dirty job, and it makes it a bear to close the ramps at night and nearly impossible to get the eggs.

The hens appreciate it, though, they run and huddle under there when it starts to pour, so I keep doing it (since last year).  And cringing at the visual effect.

Finally, I made the hen rain shelters I dreamed of!  They’re very light (flimsy) frames, that are hinged on the top so I can easily fold them up, and probably store leaning on the back of the greenhouse when it’s not raining.

They’re made from fertilizer bag liners (neighbour), the same bags I was using before.  The plastic breaks down in time in the UV, but the bags are free and abundant, so it’s not a big deal to re-plastic down the road.

The hens like the clear plastic because they can see shapes approaching through it.

Now at least it looks like I mean for them to be there.

And of course, a guinea has to stand on top of it.  That’s what all structures are for.

I made three of them.  Each coop gets a tent adjunct, and the third is for the guineas.  We set it right over top of the broody guinea.  Can’t hurt to keep her dry; all the others will happily stay dry if they can.  She was angry about the installation!  But got right back on her eggs.

The guineas don’t mind if they do.
ALL structures

Free chickens

Here they come.

The chickens get some time out almost every day now.  Very soon they will be finished with the greenhouse for the year.

They’re getting tetchy in there.  Starting to hate each other.  They come running to the door when I come, hoping I’ll prop it open.

Although eager to get out, they don’t stay out, unless it’s a sunny day.  There’s still snow on most of the ground, and if it’s grey, they find their way back into the greenhouse pretty quickly.

Guineas in the sun.  They find their way back inside too, when done exploring.

bird feeder sightings

Can you see the rabbit?  Right of center.  The rabbits are light grey now, very cute.

The squirrels are regular patrons, and I even saw a vole out on top of the snow harvesting.  It ran down the hole in the snow around a trunk of tree.

Squirrels, rabbits, birds and voles – It’s a regular multi-class buffet around the bird feeder these days.  The dog wants a handful of Spitz at every feeder filling too  – nomnomnom.

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What? We’re birds!

 

 

New hens- arrival

We collected our pre-ordered 18-week old layers from the co-op today.  A half dozen of them, to refill our stock.  Three birds were lost last year to various predators, because I couldn’t get them in the greenhouse fast enough.

They’re cute.  Really not much more than teenagers.   Very slim, with tiny pink combs.   We brought them home in two tupperwares, and fenced off a corner of the GH for them.

HW was all for dumping them out of the bins, but I insisted they be allowed to relax and come out when they were ready.  They took their sweet time coming out on their own.

IMGP0207The first one, briefly called “Boldy”, peeking out.

 

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We might just stay in here all day

When the chicken man was shoving chickens into the boxes of all the people arriving for their layers, he paused with us and said “There’s a weird chicken here.  It’s all white.  Otherwise normal.  Do you want the weird chicken?”

Of course, I said.  I’ll take the weird chicken.  So we have one reverse chicken, white, with flecks of brown.

HW instantly dubbed her M.J. (It don’t matter if you’re black or white!IMGP0213Oh, there’s another one peeking out.

IMGP0215At about this point the old hens, on the other side of the fence, began to take an interest, and the rooster started putting on a big show, strutting and prancing…

Continue reading New hens- arrival

A chicken worthy of a name?

Since the tragic loss of the exceptional and beloved pet chicken Friendly last fall (I’m still sad), all the other chickens, indistinguishable in looks and behavior, have been just Chicken.  Even Naked, once her proud new plumage got a bit dingy, disappeared into the flock.

Now that the hens have been released, there’s one chicken distinguishing herself.

Typically there are three hens that stick very close to the rooster.  His girlfriends.  They cuddle with him at night while the other four perch over the nest boxes.  When he food clucks, the girlfriends dash up to him (as HW says, “Whatcha got, big Daddy?”), and the other hens barely glance up, rolling their eyes, “It’s probably just a stick again”.

Continue reading A chicken worthy of a name?

Chick Days

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Sep 10
Hatch day!
Right on time:)  At the end of the day I insisted on preparing the red hen’s box for the arrival of chicks- cleaning out her turd mountain and soggy food and replacing her bedding, and lo and behold, there was peeping!  OMG, peeping!  I picked up the protesting red hen to see and a wet little tadpole of a chick fell out, wriggling on its back like a turtle.  Yay, a chick!
It did seem like she was unusually alert all day.

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Sep 11
Another chick!  A little spotted one, with markings on its back like a spider!  Maybe one of the black hen’s eggs, or the red hen’s.  Yesterday’s chick is white, now that it’s dried out and fluffy.  There’s one more egg with pipping; there’s a little beak visible, but it has not made progress over the day.  They are so, unbelievably cute, and tiny! One little chick is weightless in my hand.

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Sep 12
Well, the results of the ambiguous candling are now officially confirmed.  I removed all the unhatched eggs and looked through them with light again.  The opaque eggs at 15 days were full of chicks, and the clear/translucent eggs were eggs either never fertilized or lost for some reason extremely early.  Three and three.  So the red hen is essentially at 66%, if I gave her three non-viable eggs to start with.  The third chick died, and did not complete hatching, which is too bad.  To get that close!  I unpeeled the shell around it. It is indeed amazing how packed in there they are, and how well developed.  They come out and they function completely- standing, eating, digesting, communicating.  Amazing.

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The two living chicks are toddling around and spending most of their time under mom.  The chicks come and go from under her, vigorously nudging when they want back under until they get let in under a breast or a wing.  She’s still in her broody bedded-down state, and I’m hoping she’ll come out of it now and start mothering.  There’s no plan B if these hens are lousy mothers. I sure hope she’s having them eat and drink when I’m not looking. I’m worried about them falling into even the smallest waterer, and have modified a little tub for mom to drink from.   I held each one to the chick nipple and forced them to have a little drink.  In lieu of chick starter, they have a fruit and veggie chopped salad and cooked quinoa.

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Adorable!  The tiny chicks burrow under mom when they get cold, and pop out to look around.  They bounce around their box and peep a lot.  They glug from the water nipple like pros!   Mom is actively participating, very loudly cheeping over new food, poking them under her.   They’ve made a mess of their box scratching the food around, and every day I remove mom’s droppings.  The chicks are so small their turds are about the size of a buckwheat grain. Although even these chicks are huge compared to songbirds, they seem so tiny to me compared to standard day-old chicks.  Already they have their wing feathers appearing on their nubby little wings.
The temperature has dropped a lot, so winter is close enough to smell.   The white hen must be due any day now.  She went broody a few days after the red hen but I didn’t note it exactly.

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Going
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Going
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Almost
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Gone

Sep 15

After a day in Halifax we came home to a new chick!  Already fluffy and poking out from mama’s wing, this one must have hatched early in the day.  We prepped up a new chick box for the white hen and moved her and her eggs into it to finish hatching.  Yay!  I’m counting on more from her.  There’s sure to be another chick by morning.

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Angry Mom

Sep 16
No new chicks in the morning:( I was at work all day, and the text message reports flowed in!  A new chick mid morning!  Another soggy chick in the afternoon!  I came home, and OMG, one of them is smoke grey!  One is very yellow!  So tiny, amazing all over again.  The eggs are cracked in half, opened around the center like a seam, expertly.
Just the few days difference between the sets of chicks and the growth is visible.

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Now there are two mom boxes in the coop and the rooster sleeps between them.  H.W. thinks he must be really forlorn now everyone’s gone.
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It sure seems to me like they’re looking proud!

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Sep 17
The white hen has 75% success.  One of her four eggs failed as well, and similarly close to done.  I cracked the dead egg to see and the nearly completely formed chick was sharing space still with some yolk.  It must have died in the last few days.  But three very alive, and mobile.  The white hen has an amusing defence tactic.  She lowers her head and lifts up her butt and makes angry noises.  She tries to back her chicks into a corner and guard them like this.  The chicks still come leaking out and hopping around, and it doesn’t do anything to stop me from lifting her up to clean under her.

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Goodnight

The Days of Our Lives with The Combed and the Feathered

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We definitely have a pet chicken now.  She arrives at the camper early in the morning, shortly after the flock finishes their breakfast, and more or less stays all day.  She stays under the camper when it rains, roams in the surrounding woods when it’s clear, and keeps an ear open for any comings and goings from the camper, upon which she will appear out of nowhere to lurk, staring up with her downturned beak/mouth perpetual chicken grimace.  She happily eats of my hand, and if I put out a dirty pot or bowl, she’ll clean off any grains or vegetable remains (impressively well, considering she has no tongue), tapping out “chicken morse code”.  We’ve deterred any other hens from hanging around our camper by chasing them back when they occasionally follow her out.
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We’ve named her Friendly.  The alternatives were Low Chicken and Baldy, because of her receding featherline.  She’s bald to behind her ears because of being pecked on. Both options were rather unflattering so we went with some positive branding.  She may be low, but she’s smart and independent.  All the red full-size chickens are too look-alike to name, except for their feather patterns.  There’s bald Friendly and Naked, the molter.

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When her feathers return we’ll have no way of telling her apart.  All of the chickens have unique saw-tooth patterns in their combs, but I am just not dedicated enough to memorize comb variations so they can have names.  They only get dubbed according to their difference.  There’s one with more white than the others (Whitetail), and for many days there was a chicken with one feather persistently sticking out at an angle (Wears One Feather Askew).  Then three other chickens took up the fashion all at once and there was now more telling them apart.

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Personally, I love the patter of chicken feet, but when all nine of them are hopefully shadowing my every move, back and forth, back and forth, it’s easy to feel mobbed.  They curiously get in the thick of everything we’re doing, climbing in the trailer or on our tools and wood, or sampling the sawdust when we’re building.  I can’t think of any good reason why eating (fresh, local, wildcrafted) sawdust would be bad for them, but it makes no sense why they want to eat it. Yet they do, enthusiastically.

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H.W. gets upset with “them all crowded around, staring at me”, and threatens to throw his hat at them.  His hat-throwing has made such an impression that he no longer has to throw headgear, just give it a cowboy swoosh over his head, and instantly the chickens turn as one and flee.  Not the hat!!!  Hilarious, and effective.

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Oh, were you working here?

H.W. wants to put anklets on them some night.  I know there are two hens that prefer to be on their own and hang out down along the driveway where it’s shady and kind of swampy.  Often when I feed the flock an evening snack there’s only 7, including Friendly, and I always find two more lingering halfway down the driveway.  There seem to be two that are always near the rooster.

Updates:

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Naked is growing feathers again, and just in time.  It’s getting cold.  She got worse before she got better, though, losing so many feathers she was just a mostly white fluffball of under-feathers, looking miserable on rainy days.

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Naked regrowing, so fast!  Good thing, it’s just in time.  She’s been hanging around a lot lately with her shoulders around her ears, so it’s a good job her feathers are coming back. Now she is only Nearly Naked, and soon will be namelessly indistinguishable from the flock.

Chickens Make Mulch

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Yeah, we do. We made this!

Since our laying chickens get to roam wild and free wherever they want, we are hardly putting them to work in every way we could.  Sure, they make manure compost and lay eggs, but we haven’t asked them to kill sod for garden beds, or put them in a tractor for deliberate fertilizing.  They make mulch for me, though.

Before
Before
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During

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After (two feedings)
After (two feedings)

All I have to do is feed them twice in the same place, by scattering their breakfast grain in a grassy place.  They are so vigorously committed to finding every last crumb that they tear up the grass, it dries, and I collect it with a rake.  Clean, soft, dry garden-ready mulch.  Maybe with a little bit of bonus chicken poop.  Could not be easier.

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Chicken approved

 

Chickens running

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Sometimes when I’m walking down the path, I hear a little whisk whisk behind me, and I look back to find two or three hens eagerly running along behind me.  They stop immediately when I stop and mill around, at a loss.  Uh, we were just, uhhhh, nothing.

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I start walking again and they run some more, curiously following.  Chickens running is about the funniest thing ever.  There’s the loping jog, where the side to side bobbing is very pronounced (doing doing doing), and then the running, more springy up and down but less side-to-side (boingboingboing), and then there’s the top speed, which usually means they throw their wings out for stability or to maybe be ready to take off at any moment, and so look like children running in superhero capes.  I spend a lot of time with a chicken shadow, and H.W. occasionally gets tailed.  So funny!  They’re convinced something good will fall to the ground around me if they only stick to me.

Only the low hen will come all the way to the camper by herself; others have followed HW here, but usually I tell my little followers to turn around, back it up! and then as soon as they lose sight of me on the curving path, they return to the others.  We do not want the whole flock hovering around the camper waiting for the door to open.  H.W. was already scandalized at our resident low hen today.  He set his slice of pie down on the bench to pull his shoes on, and she darted up, grabbed the pie, and ran into the woods with it.  She knew exactly what was at stake; earlier she was eating pie crust crumbs out of my hand.  I want to pet her, but we are not at that stage in our relationship yet.

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The naked chicken seems to be quite high in the order now, and her feathers are starting to poke out of her skin again, although she still looks ghastly half-naked.  H.W. makes jokes in bad taste about her looking appetizingly half-cooked.

First contact

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The low hen brought a friend ‘round the camper with her.  They seem to get along.  I throw the odd scrap to them and brush crumbs out there, and betweentimes they go scratching in the crunchy leaves nearby, which is loud.  Having two hens around here, I thought that they just might wander over to the Silkies that are parked so near us, and I was hoping I’d witness the event.  (We have the Silkie coop near our camper, which is on the other side of an expansive field from the full-size hen coop and our vehicles/garage/etc).

Not quite.  I heard the Silkies burst out cry-screaming, and I ran out to see, just in time to see a red (full-size) hen sprinting towards me on the path from the coop, head up, eyes wide.  Behind her Snowball the Silkie rooster was thundering along like a stormcloud, head down, wings out, and eyes narrowed. I didn’t have time to turn my camera on before it was over.  The hen streaked past me and kept going, squalling indignantly all the way back to the flock.  The Silkie turned and ran back to his coop, where the little red hen was squealing like a spoiled little rich girl, not scared, but deeply offended.  That was that.  They’ve met, and they don’t get along.  The big hen got seen off.  It wasn’t the low hen, but her friend.

Later HW told me he’d been messing with the birds, trying to coerce an introduction, and he’d wondered why no amount of enticement would get the big hens to pass a certain point on the path to the Silkie coop.

Week 2 with the laying hens – still a novelty!

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Day 7

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A perfect performance

And they put themselves to bed perfectly too.
The naked chicken is healing.

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This a big improvement over her lobster red sunburn.

Day 8

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We built a fence, so the chickens’ days of lounging in the garden are over.

IMGP7305The fence won’t keep much more than the chickens out at this point, but we haven’t had any deer around yet, and the chickens are threat number 1.

When we had three sides done, hens were finding their way around to the unfinished side to get in, so there was more hat-throwing.

H.W. also helpfully provided proof that the chickens can fly over the fence, when they are sufficiently motivated.

They are ranging further, nearer to camp Silkie every day.  I hope I’m there to see first contact.  What will the Silkie rooster make of the big hens when they sail out of the grass at him?  Gorgeous Amazon hens! or Mutant monsters!

The hens are all well-attached to the rooster now.  Occasionally there’s an independent or a pair palling around at a distance, but usually all the hens are in the same vicinity.

They are endlessly entertaining, popping out of the grass, sneaking, running, exploring.  They love it under our box truck and hang out under there every day, whether rainy or sunny.  I keep expecting to have to get eggs from under there, but they lay in the coop now without variance.

All 10 stowed themselves at night again. Ahhh, the time of adjustment is over, and there’s no need to worry about them any more.

Oh, you’re in so much trouble if H.W. catches you.
Oh, you’re in so much trouble if H.W. catches you.

Day 9

H.W. has a swarm of chickens near him most of the time when he’s working.  Chainsaw, splitting firewood, dragging things around – they drift along behind him as he works.  I don’t know if they’re hoping for something more than the company.  The chickens all pal around together most of the day, now.  It’s a lot harder to count 9 hens at a glance.

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Almost always, there’s seven around the rooster, and then two just a little behind, or off to the side a bit.  It’s lovely to see them all drifting around together, squabbling or worm-running or digging.  Hens look like sailboats cruising around, especially when they’re eating.  They’re rarely not funny, whatever they’re doing.

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I can recognize the low bird now.  She’s missing a lot of feathers on her head behind her comb from being pecked.  I saw another hen pluck a short feather out of her head at feeding time, and then she ran under the truck.  I see this hen sometimes drifting off on her own.  I’m surprised at the pecking; there is no shortage of space or entertainment out here.   It’s not realistic at all to quarantine one bird, but I want to help her out.

Day 10

H.W. cut down the remaining snag created by the hurricane.  It was a tough fall and I was working the come-along trying to pull it over where we wanted it to go.  Lots of yelling, roaring chainsaw; this doesn’t bother the birds. Naturally, all the chickens wanted to be in the fall zone and I had to push them off into the woods for their protection.  The tree came down where we wanted, ahhhh.  Success; relief.  H.W. shuts the saw off and we’re quiet – there’s nothing more to say, it’s all done.  But the rooster freaks out when the tree falls, going off like a siren, shouting, shrieking blue murder.  BABWOCKBABWOCKBABWOCKThe end is nigh!  Doom and destruction!  The sky is falling!  He doesn’t stop for a long time.
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Day 11

Uhoh.  H.W. put the birds away in the night, a little bit earlier than full dark.  I asked if he counted beaks in the coop and he scoffed, “No, but they’re fine”.   Three nights straight they’d all gone to bed perfectly, so I figured yes, probably they are just fine, no need to worry.  In the morning on my way to let them out of the coop I opened the truck for feed.  A lone hen popped out from somewhere! She’d spent the night out, I don’t know where.  She  started telling me all about it!  BuhBUHbaBAbabuh!BUHbuhBAbaBAbaBUH!!buhbaba!BUHba….on and on, very funny with all the variety of pitch in her voice.  She was all worked up.  When I released the others she ran back to the embrace of the flock and the rooster did a little dance at her. The rooster dance seems to be a kind of chastisement or herding behaviour, as unfortunately, this rooster doesn’t dance before mating.

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The chickens have learned that I bring food.  They see me and all run towards me down the path.  It makes me feel quite popular.  If I don’t give them anything, they mill around, some poking their heads up high and tilting them to look sharply at me.  If I walk away slowly, they lurk and then follow me furtively a few feet off.  If they’re positive I have food, like if I rattle it, they will all jog along behind me as I walk.  How do they know, even from a distance, that it’s me, even with a complete wardrobe change?  H.W. does not get this treatment; they know us apart.

What good good chickens.  They look after themselves all day, lay 7 eggs every day in the coop, and all go to bed at night.  Perfect chickens.

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A hen made it all the way along the path to our camper!  She went strolling by the front of the camper and walked into the woods.  That’s far past where all the other chickens have made it to, and ever so close to the Silkies.  I thought we’d have contact for sure, but not quite.  The Silkie roosters were on high alert, hearing her in the woods, but she didn’t quite make it over to them.  It was the low hen!  I gave her a pile of seeds and scraps, and she could enjoy without competition.  I expect to see more of her over here by herself.

 

Chickens, continued

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Day 3

Their going to bed by themselves is going to have to be close enough.  I’m not sure how they’re getting out, but they have announced their readiness to free-range by a mass breakout.  I let them to it, intending to keep an eye on them.

Uhoh.  A couple hours later I go to look in on them, and there’s not a chicken in sight.  Crickets.  I start walking around the field, down the driveway, where I’d expect them to go, into the cool trees.  See and hear nothing.  No chickens, anywhere.  I find them right behind the barn demo site, in a grassy depression just out of sight.  Phew.

Now they are free, what really strikes me is how far they readily range.  I guess I imagined how much the Silkies range, only proportionally increased.  So, 5-6x as far.  No, much farther.  They are roaming farther, faster, than I expected.  They were nearly across the field, and I headed them off, uncertain how an encounter with the resident puny poultry would go.

A little later:

What are you guys doing out here?  Two hens were sailing far away from the group, in the long grass together.
What are you guys doing out here? Two hens were sailing far away from the group, in the long grass together.

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The rest of the hens are back at the barn, rooting and bathing at the sandy edge of the barn rubble.

Why, why must you play in the rubble?
Why, why must you play in the rubble?

Bedtime.  Hens are gathering in the vicinity of the coop, that’s great.  After a little longer, they were all under the coop, so I closed the sides.  Oh wait, not all.  Bet I know which two are missing.

There they are, under the lift gate of the truck.
There they are, under the lift gate of the truck.

These two were wandering around all day together, which worries me.  That’s cool they’re besties, but if every day is girl’s day out, they could get picked off.  HW read over what I wrote about picking them out and choosing “a couple outliers” –  ohhhh.  Yeah, that’s them. The other four are super attached to the rooster, and go everywhere with him.

If I herd the rooster, then all the hens come boinging along, in a line behind, which is funny.
If I herd the rooster, then all the hens come boinging along, in a line behind, which is funny.

I chase the rooster, and he bleats, and the hens all come running behind me down the path.
Five eggs today.

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Day 4

The chickens are fascinated by the rubble, and that is not ok.  There’s a mountain of broken glass and styrofoam beads everywhere.  I was working cleaning it up and the hens all gathered around, and then crept in closer on me, very excited about what I was exposing by raking.  HW noticed fresh peckmarks on some chunks of foam, and then the rooster was trying to pick something out of his foot, so we tried to chase them away from the barn.  They went into the garden.

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Scratching vigourously in the garden, awesome.
Scratching vigourously in the garden, awesome.

They are not yet into the greenery (what there is of it), but they are very excited about the mulch, and need to shift it all to eat what’s underneath.  Chased them from there.  They like to follow our paths, and many paths lead to the garden.

They’re back at the barn.  There’s a huge field of salad to explore, but they’re all over our work zones. H.W. says they are definitely lively chickens, and it’s nice that they’re so interested in being around people.  It’s true, I love curious chickens, but the barn is a hazmat zone.  We decided to tarp the barn area, to cover everything dangerous.  The chickens were getting determined, sneaking from behind to get the “good stuff” while I was running others off in the other direction.  The loner girls are integrating better today, which means more sneakers on the scene.

I had the area more than half covered when one hen ran in on a mission to gobble on a a piece of styrofoam, beads flying.  I chased her off, yelling, and she was off in the grass again with the others, totally busy.  I walked the 50’ to the house for more plastic and come back- gone about a single minute, and there she is in the middle of the heap again, maniacally attacking the foam.  Nooo!  Why is white styrofoam chicken crack?  It much be the crunchy, popcorn texture.

Tarping the whole area works, and the chickens are safe again (in the woodpiles, under the truck, around the house).
Four eggs today.  Each hen is laying 3 eggs every four days.

At night we go out to get three more hens from the same place.   It’s dark and they are sleepy and come home in the tub again.   I pick the third hen of the former trio of “outliers”, and we take two more from the same perching spot as before, hoping they are more of our rooster’s hens.  The “third hen” is a sorry critter.  She’s moulting or pecked so her whole back and shoulders of her wings are bald, and she’s got a horrible sunburn.  As bad as the one H.W. came back from his bike ride with. I’m hoping she will recover and do better in the smaller flock.

This is nine hens now.

We deposit the new chickens into the coop, after slathering aloe vera on the sunburned chicken, despite H.W.’s protests: “You are not going to put aloe on a chicken…I am not participating in that…I don’t believe this….you better not tell anyone about this”.   Her bumpy chicken back is dry and hot, and the aloe must feel good for her, like anyone with a sunburn.  Oddly, none of the chickens are roosting now.  They are all settled down on the floor of the coop, and in the nest boxes.  Weird.  They look comfortable though, and there is still a load of space.

Day 5

Assuming the reunited flock would be managed by the rooster and the new arrivals would follow the example of the others, I let them all loose in the am.  Never assume.  Midmorning screaming from the rooster and I find it’s because the flock is dispersed.  Three hens missing, surprise surprise.  Two hens are by the downed trees and I herd them towards the path to the coop.  As soon as they’re on the path, they break out in a run and haul chicken butt back to the flock, and the rooster greeted them and went quiet.  Turns out it’s the same imminent danger call for a lost hen as a threat to the flock.  BaBWOCK, BaBWOCK!  BaBWOCK! and the hens join in too, hollering.   Last time that alarm went off the Silkies were being menaced by the tabby cat that used to come around here.

I take off looking for the sunburned hen, and find her deep in the woods.  She’s cunning and it’s a long, scratchy chase through the undergrowth with her little tail disappearing far ahead of me, to get her back up to our civilized area and back to the flock.
An hour later, she’s gone again, and I can’t find her.  I launch a massive henhunt in the afternoon, and find all kinds of interesting things but not her.  Perhaps she is dying of shame with her naked back or is unwanted by the flock due to her wretched looks.   Perhaps, H.W. says, “she thinks you’re going to put aloe on her again.”  Finally I wrote her off, thinking maybe she’ll be fine – there’s a great many places to hide out here, and maybe she’ll find her way back in a couple days, or when her feathers grow back.  I thought heavily of the dreaming hen.  I’m also thinking, she’d better not turn out to be a few feet from the coop all day and make a fool of me.  Clearly, she’s the low bird, and she’s determined to leave, deliberately getting lost.  I’m sad though; once lost, however deliberate, she might not be able to find her way back is she changes her mind.

Now there are nine hens, I’m hoping for 7-8 eggs a day.  Hmmm, only five in the boxes.

A couple hens and the rooster are suspiciously interested in a patch of tall grass, and there’s a lot of purring going on.  I suspect egg-laying might happen there.

Yes, it does.
Yes, it does.

Today the chickens find their way into the garden several times, and H.W. chases them out, hollering and throwing his hat at them.  This puts the fear of god into them so he only has to appear, yelling, and they flee, guilty and squawking from the garden.  We need a fence, asap.  The two loner hens follow much more closely to the others now, and the two that got lost in the morning are careful not to get lost again.

Night time, I go to put them to bed.  At first glance, all appear to be upstairs on their own, except for one:

Ha!  Close, but not quite.
Ha! Close, but not quite.

She jumps away when I go to grab her and runs into the grass nest where I found an egg today.

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Except, there’s another hen already in there, all bedded down.
Except, there’s another hen already in there, all bedded down.
And there’s another one, out of nowhere, headed into the coop.
And there’s another one, out of nowhere, headed into the coop.

How many birds are still out?  Hey, there’s the naked chicken!  She made it back!  H.W. comes out to help after he hears squawking.  The sunburned chicken is very resistant to getting in the coop and runs all over the place before I catch her.  Her sunburn is looking a bit better.  Nice that it’s a run of cloudy, rainy days.  We get them all in and do a beak count.  Each nest has a hen sleeping in it.

Then, we find the day’s seventh egg in the grass, glowing like a pearl in the light of our headlamps.  Ohoh, we don’t want to have an Easter egg hunt every day.  I’ll try keeping them under the coop a bit longer in the mornings.

Happy shady chickens

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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.

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Day 2 – Layers

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Five eggs by 10 am!  Yay!  We are in the egg game.

It’s funny to lift the lid when there’s a hen settled in the box.  It’s kinda like walking in on someone in the bathroom.  Oh, sorry.  This time, she was just keeping a plastic egg warm.  They all lay in the  corner box now.
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The hens let themselves out to range today.  All the hens.  I made an ersatz coop extension so they could have a bit more shade and entertainment.  It hasn’t worked in the past, but I did it again anyways, propping and wiring up some window screens.
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Late afternoon I found all of them out, scattered about, very, very happy in the long grass.  I wish I could leave them out already, but I don’t trust them to return to the coop at night, and they are not allowed to camp out with unsavoury characters around.  The rooster was the only one remaining inside, not thrilled about it.  Luckily.   I opened one side of the coop, gave him some falafel, and he gave it good reviews; the hens came running.  The ones that went to the wrong side (revealing wherethey’d gotten out), I pursued around the coop until they went in the opening.

Except for one (there’s always one), who lost interest and walked away.  Trouble was, there’s only one path there, which I wanted to use too, and she was on it, and I was between her and the coop.

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Scared at me trying to edge past her, she ran into the tall grass (waist high), which was really funny, as you could see where she was going by the disturbance on the surface, like she was submarining.  She popped out of the jungle by the coop and went back in.  Phew, uneventful recapture.

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Will they go to bed on their own, earning their daytime freedom?

7:30pm.  Silkies all abed, one big hen is roosting. I produce the stick, and it spontaneously occurs to two more hens to go to bed.  I decide on a staged approach tonight, and give them breaks between stick persuasion events
8:30  Show the stick again.  Another hen goes up, and one goes to the top of the ramp and turns around, blocking the ramp.
9:00  Clearly she was not convinced it was bedtime.  Two hens and the rooster still down.  Bet it’s the same two holdouts as yesterday.  Gentle nudging persuades each hen to head up the ramp on first attempt.  Rooster frets and dithers and head butts stick, but two steps onto the ramp and he’s on his way.

Ahhhhh, so much better.  These hens are no problem.

I do not have too much confidence in this rooster.  Not the brightest.  I wonder what the Silkie rooster would make of these hens that are bigger than he is?

Shady chickens

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I see you in there

Now we are done with the garden so we don’t have their entertainment there.

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They must be hot in their fluffy fur coats. And hats. And sweatpants.

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Mini Coop’r

IMGP7159I’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.

(Mini coop complete, with shakes, not pictured)

Coop II, the Mini Coop’r

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Thinking about it… thinking some more…

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

 

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

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Two down
One down
One down

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

I retrofit one on the original coop too.

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

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

Miracle chick

IMGP4853Throughout this post I refer to the chick as a “he”, mostly.  However, these chicks’ gender is still unknown.

My friends’ hen hid in the goat barn and hatched herself a little brood this early spring.  The two survivors were the cutest things, skittish little white puffs tightly attached to mom, learning to scratch, and changing every day – growing new feathers and  little tails overnight.

Then one morning they spotted what looked like a plastic bag hanging in an odd place in the paddock.  Through the binoculars it was definitely one of the chicks, hanging upside down, apparently dead. While P was looking at it though, the chick turned its head and looked at him looking.  “It’s alive!”

He ran outside to retrieve the little bird and had to cut it free from where it had got its foot tangled and been suspended.  I first saw it in his hand, wrapped in a towel.  It looked awful.  One leg was stretched out straight and unnaturally.  Motionless, fully extended and obviously useless, it was generally assumed broken.  Prepared to tape it up with electrical tape, I palpated the little bird bones all the way from heel to hip but didn’t find any obvious breaks.  The bird reacted minimally, although it was dozing off because he was being held with his head low.  His leg looked awful, though, hanging useless from his “hip”, so I figured at the least his tendons were all torn.

Would the bird survive?  He was put in a box, ate a bit of food and promptly pooped, which was hopeful, but he couldn’t drag himself around at all, and the lifeless leg stayed stretched out behind him at a pathetic, painful angle.

These pictures are from two days after re-releaseI consulted Google, found this, and crushed up an aspirin to feed him on a bit of juicy mango peel, prompting H.W. to dub me Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

(Do not feed poultry ibuprofen! Or the whole aspirin! See the link)

Mostly the chick sat still and quiet with his good foot under him and and the other sticking out horribly; sometimes he sent up a loud wave of lonely peeps.

Later in the day after the aspirin, I grabbed the chick, who flapped and dragged himself through his water dish in a pathetic attempt to escape, to inspect his/her leg again.  This time I bent the leg gently through the whole natural range of motion a couple of times and was satisfied it wasn’t broken, although it was clearly badly damaged.  He couldn’t grab my finger with his foot the way he did with the other foot, and it was stiff and lifeless.

Still later that night, I checked on him again randomly, and he was sitting with both feet drawn up under his body!

More surprisingly, the next morning, when I lifted the lid off his box, he promptly flew up to the edge of the box in an escape attempt.  I inspected his/her leg again and this time he could grip a little with it.  He hopped around his box a bit, too, when encouraged, but with an awful limp.  It still looked broken, even, wobbling and dragging behind him.

But by that afternoon, he/she was standing on both legs, like normal, and clearly very lonely.  It seemed a miraculous recovery.

I thought I would reintroduce him to his mom just before bedtime so he could still have more rest but be with her before he got emotionally stunted.  I misjudged when she was retiring, though, and put him back out with almost an hour of active foraging left.

It was adorable!  I put him down and he ran to her as fast as he could, but it was down a slope so that at the end he wiped out and slid into her legs like he was sliding into base.  She just looked at him, and that was all.  All three of them resumed waddling and pecking like nothing had happened.  I was worried he hadn’t had enough rest and his limp would get worse with the sudden return to exercise, but he was managing fine, keeping up.The chicks are ranging boldly farther from their mother these days

By the middle of the next day, the two chicks were indistinguishable again.  From how awful he looked initially, it was a miracle recovery.

Our best guesses are that he may have been hung upside down for a long time, even overnight, and that his leg emptied of blood.  Perhaps his vessels collapsed or even had nerve damage with a v

ery extreme case of having one’s foot fall asleep, so it took a long time to get back circulation and reennervate.  Perhaps he had strained or over stretched muscles or tendons that bounced back with the rest.

At any rate, a chick that seemed a hopeless writeoff returned to being a normal chick in 48 hours, and although his leg looked broken, it wasn’t at all.  I’ll be more inclined now to care for and nurture damaged animals in case they are able to recover.  It might not be as bad as it looks.

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Peeping hens

I was lying on the floor the other, day, probably making a list, when all the chickens came up to the window and started looking in at me.  Pecking on the sill and canting their heads to look out of one beady eye then the other, they peered in the window, eye to eye with me.  I only got awful pictures through the glass, but this one caught one rooster shaking out his big old mane, as he’s wont to do.

Do everyone’s free range chickens run around all winter?I was leaving their coop closed some days, because I thought it was too cold, but it seems no matter how cold it is (-10C), they come rolling out of the henhouse at 8am and spend all day outside trucking around being chickens.  Sometimes they stand on one leg like storks and get pretty puffy, but they definitely like it outside, trolling the compost heap and looking in the front door.

Surely they’ll start spending their days indoors when the snow gets too deep, though.