When the chickens still had the use of their yards, before winter set in proper, there would be escapes.
Then the other chickens would stand at the fence. HEY! How’d SHE get out there? She’s got all the grass! Once I was working on the deck and a chicken came strolling by. Once HW hollered up “Hey, there’s a chicken out here!” Prancing by the house.
Chickens like eating ice.
They’re so pleased with themselves when they’re out by themselves (Excuse me, I’m free-range. I’m ranging!), it’s a shame to chase them back in, but necessary. They’re confined for their protection in the shoulder season. Hawks and owls are hard at work.
The grass is always greener. The grass gets evenly trimmed exactly six inches on the outside of the fence.
We’re real birds! The Blondies in a rare moment of repose:It’s funny; all the birds that grew up here, and then some, are into perching. They love the tangled alder brush. There’s the baby guineas. Nice to get a sighting. All mixed up in the flock of young adults.Time to groom like everyone else! Surprise! The second, smaller walnut tree is bearing. They come later, and they are a different kind of walnut. This kind is nice. The husks are round and super easy to shuck off the shell (on the right), and the nut is round, exactly like ye old familiar walnut.On the left, the pear shaped walnuts (from the big tree) have flat, pointy shells, and stubborn husks.I’m starting to get a respectable haul, for the first walnut harvest ever. Nice.
Only two guinea chicks running around today. Life is brutal for latecomers.
They’re so funny! Little bitty chicks, the size of ping pong balls, scuttling around on their orange legs right in the middle of the big flock, like they belong there. They’re hard to even find in my pictures.
It’s a big rain day. The rain is thundering down; I caught 300 gallons of water in an hour off two roofs. Everything is puddled and the hens are mostly huddling under their new tents.
I got six “new” hand-me-down layer hens last night. They traveled quietly and stowed easily into the coop.
This morning, they came down the ramp looking around with their necks at maximum extension. What? Is this where we live? Where are we? They walk around slowly, lifting their feet high and setting them down cautiously.
And the home girls are long necking at them. Who are THEY? Where’d they come from? Harumph.
Everyone is very suspicious, and the roosters are very busy taking charge.
Now the chicks are all transitioning from their brown juvenile feathers to the polka dot adult feathers (and looking quite scrappy while they’re at it), and they are large. And loud. They move like a school of fish still and they’re bold. Bolder in numbers.
They look like they’re performing maneuvers half the time. Flank the food dish! Charge the walnut tree! Establish defensive positions around Mom! Recon missions around corner of greenhouse! Circle back!
I have to get rid of some, I mean, give some away, but I haven’t got any bright ideas how to trap them.
She’s on her nest alright, but the mystery of why I hadn’t missed her is solved: she can’t resist dinner.
The other guineas hang out right on top of her most of the day, sunning, and grooming, and chatting. Literally, even. The “chicks”, little butterballs now half the size of full grown birds, hop over and on top of her, hunkered down in her nest. I don’t know what she thinks of this; she always looks angry, flattened out on her eggs, but she is easy to check in on now, with the weeds trampled around her. In fact, I went and clustered some cut weeds around her to help her out.
The whole group of guineas hovers around her like she’s the kitchen stove, generally blowing up her spot.
But when the rest of the flock left to visit the trough, she went running along behind! I’ll eat too! Then I swooped in to make adjustments, but she hawk-eyed my every move from the food dish. She didn’t run me though, just watched, neck long.
I moved the pigs in another direction, after a long and laborious session cutting out alders and buckthorn. Then, of course, a pig slips out, right by the nest! The pig fence is about four feet from where she decided to brood.
I kept the other pig in, but the free pig, not caring about togetherness for the moment, started romping around the field, and ran right over the nest. She came bursting out, attacking the pig, as all the other guineas, even the chicks, join the skirmish. I’m chasing the pig with a stick, the birds are all screaming and flapping, together trying to defend against the pig, but a pig is a pig, oblivious, gleefully prancing around.
I’m horrified; I have to get back to the house for the milk- the only sure pig bait, but the birds don’t stand a chance while I’m gone. This pig is going to stomp in and snarfle up all the eggs in seconds. I run for the milk, hoping only that the pig finds something else to do for the moment.
I get back, the nest is still intact, all the guineas shrieking in phalanx.
I easily catch the pig again with the milk, and I finish moving them, and everything is ok.
The hen’s scowl may have deepened, but she’s back on her eggs, crisis averted. This hen has had to put up with a lot, and she’s barely started.
What have we here? A pile of chicks trying to perch like grownups on the coop, next to mom.
But look closer. Who’s that IN the greenhouse? I don’t know how the F they got in there, maybe the gap above the screendoor?, but there were three little guineas on the door header on the wrong side. Frantic!
I get involved, scare them off the door, thinking they’ll come out the open door after they’re on the ground. Nyoooo! Mom is on the ground now too, so they run towards her and out of my sight behind the cucumbers.
Mom can see them running back and forth through the plastic and starts pecking at them. Naughty! Get out of there! Chicks: We can’t, we can’t!
The plastic is like the skin of a drum, and her pecking it is frightening the daylights out of the chicks. Boom! Boom! It’s frightening me too.
HW swings around outside to get Mom to cease and desist, I undo the wiggle wire on that corner, and after rattling the cucumber vines, the chicks come popping out the hole and it’s all over but the storytelling.
The wild Oreos and their fluffy stepmom no longer slip under the fence into Pigland but are content in the partially desertified former Pigland. They tower over mom now. One is coming into slate shingle colouring, and the other has developed coppery neck feathers.
The light is shortening, and it’s that glorious time of year when when the chickens feel like going to bed lines up with when I want to go to bed. Midsummer is awful. The chickens outlast me every day. I’ll be so tired I’m struggling to stay awake long enough to close them up, because they’re out there hopping around! Not a care in the world! SO not ready for bed. Today, I’m like, What? Are you guys seriously all in bed at 8:20!? I could weep with joy.
Inside the greenhouse Brown Bonnet is proudly bringing up 7 chicks.
These chicks have a different start because instead of chickery time, when they first emerged I lifted her box out of the fence because she was sharing, and trusted mama not to lose any chicks in the jungle.
Funny, the first three days, she barely went two feet from the box. Now she’s using half of the tomato aisle as the chicks increase in ability. Soon they will be anywhere, and I’ll think twice about slinging buckets of water.
At night they all go back in the box to sleep, which is adorable. They are going to be so wild, never getting the daily airlift touching.
Over and over, all I get to see is lots of little guineas vanishing into the brush.This morning, they were under the chicken’s coop before I opened it.
They have little wings of their own now, and they are at least doubled in size from when they hatched. Still with Big Bird orange feet and beaks.
I can’t believe one hen can cover them at night, and I think of her when it pours cats and dogs at night, resolutely making herself into a tent. In the morning, all the chicks are dry.
They still move en masse, attended constantly by all five adults. They get superlative parenting.
They aren’t quite as terrified of us, and I got closer today than ever before. Now they leave when I come around, rather than flee. Not quite as much of a panic. And the adults show their suspicion but are more tolerant.
I even got a chance to count them! and there are definitely 16, so that means that little spinaround chick made it. I’m glad:)
I haven’t managed to get any good pictures of the pile of guinea chicks.
What I have is a rolls worth of pictures of guinea butts disappearing into the grass, maybe a glimpse of keets following behind.
I’ve seen them! I’ve surprised them, walking out with a bucket of food (no camera), and the guineas will be in town. One hen rises to her feet and all the little keets tumble around her legs, like someone dumped out a salad bowl of chicks, and then they scramble into the grass or bushes.
It’s easy to watch them as a group – the adults stick out, but the chicks themselves are still so tiny they vanish in the weeds and can best be perceived by the grass rustling above them.
They’re amazing parents. Now we’re not sorry to have so many cocks. They seem to be paired up (one cock went out to get the Lady of the Woods, one coaxed coop mama out), so one cock still needs a lady, but all five travel in a tight bunch, all obviously involved in chickcare – education, herding, and retrieval.
The keets don’t distinguish between mothers. They move in one crowd, and all go under one hen for warming and nighttime. 16 of them! I can’t tell the hens apart to look at them, so we don’t know if it’s always the same hen settling on them, but my guess is that they share the job. The keets and hen settle down in the grass at night, and until last night, the rest of the flock stayed with her. Last night, the others all got up on the coop. Which raises a problem: What happens when 16 chicks are capable of flying up to roost on the coop!?
HW calls the one hen Mama Missile Launcher. She’s a grass torpedo. It may be either hen any given time, but it’s always a hen that launches an attack if you get too close. Charge! Very scary. I had picked up the little spinaround keet that got left behind and brought it closer to the group, when the mom charged me, flying right at my face. I blocked with my arms, and she went over my head, thumping me on the noggin with her feet as she went. Whapwhapwhap! I hope the little dizzy chick made it, because I haven’t been involved since.
The Blondies have seemingly recovered from the loss of their mom. It was a very sad few days, for everyone, but they’ve come out from hiding in the bush.
It’s still sad, that they’re orphaned. No guardian, no snuggling in the dust bath. They used to cheep all the time, and seem to instinctively know that cheeping is maladaptive when you’re alone in the world. They don’t cheep very much now.
They are miniature chickens, grown up early. They stick together and go all over foraging. They loosely hang with the Silkies, and go in the coop at night, but they are their own clique, and they’re still just little!
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.
The Oreos are practically grownup now, or at least think they are.
First, they graduated to the chickery, as all chicks do at about three days old. That means a nightly grab and go from the chickery to a box in the greenhouse for the night.
So cute, with their little wing feathers coming in. One is turning grey quite rapidly.
Chicken selfie – Mom under one arm with a handful of chicks.
Look at those beautiful little wings!
Into the box.
I throw a lid over them for the night and first thing in the morning, it´s an aerial transport back outside to the chickery.
Then the rains came.
I figured that the stuff growing in the greenhouse was big enough to not be threatened by one tiny hen and two chicks, so instead of bringing the chickery into the greenhouse, I just turned the three of them loose inside.
Oh, what good times.
I had a good time working in the greenhouse with my feathered company. Non stop clucking and peeping. The chicks just tweet tweet constantly.
Mom was quite fond of settling down on the edge of the wall like this, and I knew how the water level had been known to come up and pool in the greenhouse in heavy rains like this.
In the dark I went out with a light, planning to set them on high ground or in a box. I found mom and chicks not tucked against the wall, but on the very top of a mountain of straw, her personal Ararat. She´s no dummy.
The chicks got three whole days in the greenhouse, rummaging around in the straw, tugging on tomato plants, and scampering along the wooden baseboards.
And then, suddenly, they integrated themselves into the greater chicken society.
Luckily, I was outside with them when it happened. As usual, I glanced over, checking for both chicks, and there was only one chick! Mom was pacing against the wall of the greenhouse, starting to get distressed. Where´s the other chick!!?
(Music of doom):
The chipmunk hole!
I went outside. There was the chick, walking up and down the path on the wrong side of the greenhouse wall!
I tried to catch it.
The chick quite smartly scurried into the shrubbery. Well then, it´s time to be outside, I guess.
Then I tried to catch Mom. Phew! That failed miserably, so I caught the other chick instead and introduced it to the shrubbery where it scurried off to join its sibling.
Mom I had to chase and coax until she hopped out the door on her own, where the lovesick roosters were waiting for her, and she ran off into the wrong set of shrubs. I did some more chasing, until she went into the same clump the chicks were last seen in.
Good. I peered into the bushes looking for the happy family. I could see her, but not the chicks! I eventually found them – they were perched up off the ground on bent branches, already pretending to be real birds.
At night I opened the door of the greenhouse and Mom came around and hopped back in. This is where we spend the night. The third night I came to let her into the greenhouse and…. just one chick hanging around underneath the coop.
A: Wow! That´s got to be a first, a hen deciding to go to bed in a different place than the night before! Not only that, a coop she hasn´t slept in for months, in a new location.
B: Here we go again with the nightly chicks left outside drill – but I was wrong! As soon as I came around the loose chick started distress peeping, and mom popped outside immediately, bristling. What´s going on out here!? The second chick popped out behind her. I hid behind a bush to watch. Both chicks gathered up again, she coached them up the ramp together (!!!!). WOW!
Never before! First night! On her own initiative! She deserves a good chicken mom medal!
And I was worried she was a little inbred, with her head puff not as puffy as the others. They´re actually getting smarter!
Now the Oreos are right independent. Mom opted to sleep in the small coop with the Brahma hens. She takes the nest box at night with the chicks.
(There´s jean jacket hen) – when it rains I have to make a few rain tents for everyone.
Mom and the Oreos are rather wild these days. Hard to catch on camera. I get distance sightings.
So far so good.
They´re often off on their own, in the pasture, roaming rather farther than the other hens tend to.
Once I found the Oreos inside the pig zone, Mom running up and down on the outside of the electric fence. The chicks had just slipped through it.
She wasn´t alone! One of the guinea cocks was pacing back and forth right next to her, for all the world also worried about the chicks (!?!). I was aghast, of course, at the situation, but the chicks popped right back through the fence when I came on the scene, and the guinea quickly resumed ignoring them all. Different species.
Next time Mom was on the inside, chicks outside, I don´t know how she did that, and as I approached, so did the pigs. Terrified, she plunged through the fence, tangling her leg in it and shrieking. The pigs came up – I was totally worried that they would harm her, but they only nosed her, curious grunting, as I untangled her to run off again.
The Oreos are already getting up on their own in the morning, coming out before Mom, and running off from her. They stick to each other like glue, though.
Chickens are funny and eccentric when they are left to “organize themselves”.
Every morning when we open the layer coop, one hen is waiting in the blocks. There´s some jostling for pole position. If she´s on form, she´ll be the first down the ramp.
Then the human coop-opener heads for the Silkie coop at the other end of the greenhouse. Inevitably, this hen passes us on the way, legging it in the same direction at a flat out run. Racetrack chicken.
Get to the other coop and she´s pacing anxiously underneath it, looking up and twitching her tail. I´m holding in an egg here! Open up.
The second we drop that ramp, she´s up it, barging through the Silkies inside that were planning to come down, leaving a clamour of miffed squawks in her wake.
I´ve got an egg to lay! Coming through. Make way!
Every day. She´s decided that she lays eggs in the other coop, first thing in the morning. Don´t get in her way.
No one expresses the joy of summer quite like the Silkies. They sunbathe hard.
A bunch of white snowballs wriggling in the dirt or spread out flat like they´ve deflated.
Or for variety, going for a hike.
Sometimes the red hens get right in there too for a bath.
What I wonder is, songbirds take exuberant baths in puddles all the time. Chickens are birds. Why don´t they like the water?
The biggest Silkie news is that the oil of oregano treatment is totally the cure for Scaly Leg Mite! So exciting! I´ve got a few drops of oil of oregano in a bottle, and I shake that vigorously, and pour some of the mix in their water dish, not even every day, just enough to get a bit of a rainbow on their water. Their legs and feet are obviously so much better, although I haven´t been doing Vaseline treatments. Just the oil of oregano, or OOO, as I call it. I´ve got plenty around for human health; now recommended for chicken feet health. The layer hens have entirely cleared up – their feet look so good now, and I´m sure the Brahmas will respond too.
Another hen is boxed, with more pretty blue eggs. Broody 2, 2017. I have a special variety of hairless chicken that seems to go broody first. I don´t know if broodiness goes with molting or not – do they need the long break of setting to reset themselves and regrow after a molt?
Hens are usually pleased to go in the box, and get their private trough. This one is just attacking the food. I of course provide a buffet during their confinement; in the wild they would be able to pop out for a snack when they got peckish but not so in the box.
There is an important rule though: Thou shalt know the difference between sloth and broodiness.
They might be doing this:
They might be in there all day. They might slam their wings down and growl if you try to take eggs, but they may not be broody. They might be laying an egg, or just thinking about it.
I was impatient to set someone on eggs and boxed one I thought was broody – she was NOT. She was pleased at first with the snack, but upon finding herself trapped, she loudly registered her outrage, drawing the Colonel to pace at the screen door, and effected a dramatic eruption out of the box, after kicking all the eggs around. A broody will be thrilled to have eggs, and keep them in a tidy group.
So I´m waiting for one to turn. They´re just having too much fun outdoors right now to think about motherhood.
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.
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.
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. …
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.
It was supposed to be a nice day, so Mom and the Oreos (Thanks for naming them, Mom) got to move outside! I transplanted the chickery from the arid hard packed environment of the greenhouse, where they spent a couple days, to the outdoors it was designed for.
Mom was so excited about grass – I can believe it- she was broody for so long she´d probably forgotten about grass – that when I lowered her into place she didn´t take a single step, just started gobbling grass where I set her.
Then the roosters came. The two remaining “exile” roosters, that stay apart from the main flock, and continue to sleep in the small coop, alone (I´m waiting for an opportunity to rehome them), lost no time discovering the new mama.
They made fools of themselves staring longingly through the mesh and giving some dancing performances.
I don´t get it myself, but she´s always been very popular.
They were resoundingly ignored by the object of their attention, but hovered around devotedly all day.
Will it rain or won´t it? Foggy, misty day – the chickery gets a rain cape.
When evening fell and mama settled down for the night, she and the Oreos got airlifted into a bucket to go in the warmer greenhouse for the night.
She was not impressed. I´ve never used a bucket before. The bucket is not very roomy, but it was handy (I got her a box tonight).
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.
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.
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 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.
I like the way leghorns look, with their ultra-stiff erect tails.
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.
Then I get to shoo them out.
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:
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.
I have the most thoroughly integrated flock of hens I’ve ever had, to date. They hang together, closely. I fact, I rarely count them anymore, because I’ll see them as a group, in at most two not very distant packs, and know they’re all there. No more outliers or lone wolves (I know, I know- inapt).
They have friendships and preferences; two or three will roll side by side and, say, stay out to the very last minute, or linger under the birdfeeder together, while other girls lurk on the dog’s bones, but all of them are never very far apart, and usually surprisingly close together.
This is odd because the current layers are from three sources. The “old original hens” – the wise old survivors that grew up free-rangin’, yo, the “co-op hens” – unfortunate clipped beaks, and no survival skills at all, and the “leftover hens” from the neighbour, the arrival of whom seemed to catalyze the new familial cohesion.
I can tell the birds of various provenance apart easily. The old birds are looking dull, and the leftovers are the darkest.
Why are they so tight all of a sudden?
I wish I knew. They just like each other more now?
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.
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.
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.
The chickens have done their anthill number on a new anthill, this time right by our main path; practically on it.
Whenever we walk by, they eyeball us Am I really gonna have to get up? Soooo comfortable…, and then at the last minute scoot away into the brush trailing a puff of dust, like Pigpen.
It’s especially funny catching the rooster thrashing around in the dust bowl, all unkempt. It’s usually a conjugal event, if the rooster’s involved, and then both birds look up at you like they were busted in the bathtub together – which in fact, they are.
The new hens have integrated pretty thoroughly now. They don’t completely mingle with the old hens, but some spend their days with the big sisters, and they go in the woods, and all forage outside like they were meant to. They love being invisible in the shrubs during the day.
Their combs are growing, and they are filling out, and the dark brown that they all used to be is lightening a little. Aw, they’re growing up.
They are laying like nobody’s business, perfect, small brown eggs.
And they are developing their own quirky chicken habits.
MJ has taken to hopping over the fence and hanging out with the Silkies.
She’s like, I’m white, too, this is obviously where I belong.
It started with her being an enterprising food thief and a good flyer, while the flocks were still in the greenhouse. She would cross the divide to steal food, because the Silkies eat like, well, birds, and never finish their ration.
But she seems to prefer the company of the Silkies, and is often to be found of an afternoon lounging with them under the pine tree.
We filled the greenhouse with wood chips to cover the bare and compacted “soil” in there, until we can get to it, so it smells like a sawmill in there now.
For now the birds are allowed in there still, and they shelter there when it rains.
Now they are hopping around outside and lounging in the sun, or the shade. The red hen loves the little pine tree. I saw the first time she got into it: lots of dipping and hopping while she was looking up into the branches. I was like, what is she doing?
Then she leapt up, and maybe she surprised herself, because she squawked and hollered about it even as she looked quite comfortable settling on a branch next to the trunk.
Then I forgot to check the coop for complete contents when I closed them at night. I woke later with a start, remembering, went out, and sure enough, she was still in the tree. Nearly invisible but for her bright black eye when I parted the branches with my flashlight.
I’ve gone out a couple times since and the other Silkies are in evidence, but no red hen. Where the heck is she? Sprinkle some food, and boop, she hops out of the tree and comes running.
Me: walking with some tools in a bucket. I happen to be passing near the greenhouse.
Rooster: tall neck, warning clucks.
Hens: freeze mid-step like it’s Simon Says. Outliers start to creep back towards the rooster and the group.
Me: nonchalantly stroll past the hens, feeling examined.
Hens and rooster: excited murmurs- Was that a bucket? Psst, bucket! She was definitely carrying a bucket!Bucket! Whisk, whisk, whisk (the sound of chicken thighs rubbing together)- pursuit of the bucket ensues.
Me: sharp turn to see if I’m being followed.
Hens: Freeze! What? We were just, uh, hanging out. Right.
Me: Wave clipboard at them in lieu of hat. Hens pretend to retreat, none of us are fooled.