Tag Archives: free range

Summer’s turn

So it begins, with the guineas.

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

Someone’s always got to peek out.

Or two someones.

Or three.

Finally, a few pictures of the elusive guinea chicks

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s 16!

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

I’m watching you!

 

Blondies at large

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

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

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

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.

Oreo update

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.

Under the rain tent

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.

The pigs are so big these days

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.

Wild jungle chicks:

The sprinting chicken

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.

What is the appeal of these hay sacks?

When I finished planting the rest of the greenhouse, I had to move out the assorted boxes and junk that have accumulated in there.

These are the sacks of hay and poop that I bag when I clean out the hen coops, on their way to being carted to the garden for mulch.

For some reason, the hens are always fascinated by these bags, jumping on them and scratching in the top.

Jacques the rooster, the weirdo, squeezed himself in between the bags, and then got himself stuck. 

Outdoor Adventure Silkies

 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.

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:

 

 

 

 

Grass for the Oreos

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.

Someday, she will be mine

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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

img_5477
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

img_5486
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.

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.

img_4606
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.

Hen homies

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?

As long as they’re happy.

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.

Bath time!

The chickens have done their anthill number on a new anthill, this time right by our main path; practically on it.

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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.

MJ and the Silkies

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.

IMGP0340And 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.

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Getting up on the coop is unusual. She must have seen the camera coming.

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.

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Whatcha got? Got anything?

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Treebird

My Silkies have perked up a great deal since either the spring, some multi-vitamins, or the program of anti-mite foot washing.

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.

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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.

 

I love what you’ve done with the anthill…

This used to be a big round anthill, like a grass Ms. Muffet's tuffet.
This used to be a big round anthill, like a grass Ms. Muffet’s tuffet.
Now it looks like a bowl because of this.
Now it looks like a bowl because of this.
It's a big party, a group bathing affair.
It’s a big party, a group bathing affair.

The birds are just thrilled to be out of the greenhouse and are celebrating hard, on the anthill. Sometimes the rooster stands on top and thinks he’s even more important.

Two days later, nearly no remnants of anthill.
Two days later, nearly no remnants of anthill.

Let the chicken games begin!

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.

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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.

Repeat from whisk, whisk, whisk…

Red letter hen day

This was the very best day of 2015 so far, according to the chickens. A day above all days.

Oh, may we come out?
Oh, may we come out?

 

Freedom!  Go go gogogo!

Freedom! Go go gogogo!

I’ve been opening the door for some time, but there’s just nothing attractive outside for the chickens.   They don’t especially enjoy walking barefoot in the snow.  The first really warm day, though, put a real dent in the white stuff, and the area in front of the greenhouse cleared right up.

The chickens were very, very pleased.

This is their favorite, hiding in the scrub.  Can hardly see them in there, until the bush clucks when you walk by.
This is their favorite, hiding in the scrub. Can hardly see them in there, until the bush clucks when you walk by.
In no time at all they were in the woods.
In no time at all they were in the woods.

 

 

Pet chicken

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We have one pet chicken.

The low hen hangs out by the camper all the time now.  She’s different, very content to be all by herself out here the other side of the field from the flock.  I would too, if being around the rest meant I got feathers pulled out of my head.  She’s the only chicken intrepid enough to follow the path around the field all the way here on her own.  It’s nice, to have the one chicken so close, and I’m glad she can hang out somewhere safe from social pressures.  When I open the door she appears, looking to see if I’m going to throw something.

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.

Learning to range

I started letting the chickens out into the wide world when I got back, because they have to learn sometime. I’d open the main door and just leave it open and wait.  For hours they only poked their heads out, until one of the roosters got jostled and fell out, with much squawking.  Over the first few days, they slowly ventured a few feet away from the coop.

That was fraught with anxiety for me.  At first I only did it while I was around, all scared of all the threats they would encounter, with no street smarts at all! But they seem to be ok.  I’ve seen them practically interacting with the ravens, whom they are about the same size as now, the bear has rolled through, as have the neighbor’s dogs, and there have been no losses.

At first, every morning when I opened their hatch the roosters would tumble out and stand there wide legged, blinking, and shake their necks out.

Now when I let them out in the morning they pop out the hatch like corks, Continue reading Learning to range