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.
Mama Silkie I completed hatching out her eggs for a grand total of seven little Silkie chicks, three white and four brown. They are at liberty in the greenhouse but haven’t gone more than a couple feet from the box.
A restorative friend visit and blueberry pick- 10# of fat blueberries that the piglets and chickens will be ecstatic to have a little taste of.
The promise of rain! The smell is light relief in the air.
Then the guineas decided to level up.
While I was taking pictures of these clowns, a BAT! came flapping around. 100% bat! It was flying right over my head to hoover up the bugs that I was attracting and I saw the whole bat silhouette against the sky (much clearer than my camera saw it). It seems like the bats might be on their way back from the brink!
There’s the guinea keets this morning, practicing perching on the feet of the guinea sky-coop. They grow by the day.
HW has raised the issue of what happens when all these guineas grow up. Case in point, when they start hollering about something, it’s “How do you think 20 of those are going to sound?”, and “What happens when all those guineas decide to sleep on top of the coop?” and the most difficult: “So, if you had two hens this year and they had 16 babies, then what happens next year when all those hens are grown up, and they have….how many babies are they gonna have?”
There can no longer be more procrastinating; the guinea house has to be moved out of the greenhouse, so I have to finish it. It needs a roof.
The guineas have been faithfully roosting on top of it since I built it, and I gave up completely on plan A of training the birds to go in at night. For them, there is no in, only the highest possible perching point.
Well, that´s over now. I put a roof on it. I made an extra door perch, so they hopefully they will learn to creep into the house from the perch.
I had some help from carpenter chicken:
I´m totally helping. Can I poop on this for you?
Can´t put things down for a second.
Then, dusk fell, and the guineas came home to find that their house had been reno´d while they were gone. Extreme Makeover: Guinea Coop.
They went straight to the top; sat on the roof.
I hope they decide a roof is a pretty great idea once they are outside, and it rains.
I was out in the garden half the day, putting in some starts. I go back to my pots of broccoli, and I find a mass of competing ticks playing king of the mountain on the popsicle stick (gross!).
Ticks climb up things, and then wait at the very tip of a branch or stick, reaching out their little legs like they want a hug, waiting for a mammal to walk by, and then they will drop or grab as you go by. The two on the right hand pot are in position.
Here, the popsicle stick must have been the highest point, so hot property. They also like to sit in wait on the rim of buckets. While I was taking the picture, and thinking how long is it going to take me to kill all these ticks? a couple dropped and set off at a clip straight towards me. They must have a great sense of smell.
We have lots of ticks. Stand still anywhere, watch the ground, and you can find a tick walking toward you. This is not a fun feeling.
And where there are real ticks, there are phantom ticks. There´s nothing like the first tick bite of the year to start up that feeling of ticks crawling all over you, all the time, even if it´s actually your hair or the tag in your shirt. Less than ten percent of the time, it is a real tick, but ´tis the season to be on edge.
I need several platoons of guineas out here to mop them up. Speaking of which, they all seem to be getting along. This morning when I opened the greenhouse, the new ones led the charge out the door and flowed straight into the woods.
I caught sight occasionally of the new ones in the woods, confused, squawking, but at the end of the day they were all together again, and standing around the greenhouse. Hopefully the new ones will show them around.
Ever since I constructed elaborate toad mansions under my parents’ back deck for the itinerant toads of Ontario as a child, there is little that pleases me more than an animal inspecting something I made for them, deciding This is alright, and using it! Sometimes there would be a toad using the pool, or the planter pot “cave”. Yessss.
One night! And the guineas have decided they live on their coop! I’m so pleased. All of them, lined up on the rim. It’s probably only because it’s about 2 inches higher than the header of the door (by design), but I’ll take it. On vs in – close enough. We’ll work up to “in”.
All of them went up there on their own. They started out on the roof, but after dark, there they were.
I’m starting to worry about the guineas sleeping out “loose” in the greenhouse. The hens are all secured at night in their respective coops, but the guineas are not safe, should a weasel come in, and now the GH is breached with multiple tunnels, one easily could.
The guineas have a collective mind of their own though, choosing different places to sleep every night. They used to like snuggling between the hay bales and the plastic, or perching on the top of the open screen door, which is funny. They’ve just moved up one better though, and are roosting on the top of the door header.
It’s funny, approaching the GH and seeing their little shadowy silhouettes above the door in the dusk. There were only four the first night! I went in to shut the coops wondering if one was lost (a constant fear). She was fine. She was pacing along the roof’s edge of the layers’ coop, the nearest high point, trying and failing to muster up the bird courage to flap up and join the others.
I waited awhile, as it got darker, before I intervened. I walked right up to her, smoothly reached out and grabbed her by the legs. How well this went surprised both of us. She eep-ed once and wobbled a little to get her balance as I readjusted her to stand on my palm, and I lifted her up almost level with the others (I’m a bird elevator). She stood there for many seconds before she took the 6 inch hop. After that night she’s made it up on her own. We take the opportunity to pet them at night, which they do not love, shuffling nervously and squeezing together. But I think it’s good for them.
So I built them a house.
I put it on top of the straw bales for their examination (the layer hens are the most curious and adventurous of the bunch).
And then I put it on legs.
Knowing they want to be at the highest point in the room, it’s up in the air. In fact, I won’t be able to take it out of the GH without taking the legs off, so…it’s either going to stay in the GH forever, or dismantling it is, to move their coop outside.
My big idea is to get them to roost IN the coop every night, and then in the summer they will continue to sleep in the coop, instead of the trees, where I can shut the door and they will be safe.
That’s my big idea. Chances are good that the guineas have other ideas.
The first night, HW moved them from the header to the coop. They were unimpressed and jumped up to perch on the top edge. That’s ok with me. Sleeping on their coop is a good start. Maybe when it gets colder they’ll have more interest in huddling.
It has a protruding stick so that they can fly to it and then shuffle inside. The roof is partial because I don’t have a piece of plywood the right size handy, so I set some scrap on it. No door yet either. That can come after they sleep in it.
I can’t believe it but I’m SO happy. ALL MY BIRDS ARE GETTING ALONG! The one silver lining to the loss of my big rooster is that I don’t have to segregate my birds. Two winters I’ve attempted to divide the greenhouse into two territories, Silkieland and Layerland. I say attempted because there were always breaches no matter what I tried.
First there were the guineas, with the GH all to themselves.
Then there were the two Silkie moms and their nine chicks between them, who got to stay in the greenhouse mostly because of inclement weather.
Then I moved in the layer coop, the day after the rooster was killed. The Silkies had the yard outside for a week of lovely weather, from whence they could see inside through the screen door.
Next I opened the door dividing the flocks, and waited to see what would happen. A few red hens popped out, looked around, ate some grass, and went back in. Hey, the guineas came outside, flew over the fence, and were walking around the other door looking confused. The Silkies did not drift into the greenhouse.
The next morning, the Silkie rooster came barrelling inside when I opened the layer coop. The reason: one of his hens is sleeping in the wrong coop. He chased her a merry race and taught her a lesson, and then raced back outside, where the other rooster was taking advantage of his absence to get some. Life’s hectic for Snowball. He’s got a lot of responsibilities.
They did not integrate on their own until, due to a bad forecast, we lifted the Silkie coop into the GH. These long-suffering coops (Oh, they’ll last a year) are still enduring, still doing their job.
And then, miracles! they all just … got along. The layers drink side by side with the guineas, and the chicks are all up in the middle of everything, as they always have been. Infants of any species seem to get big tolerance passes. They can poop anywhere they like and be grabby and no one pecks them. The guineas are smaller than the layers right now, but they seem to know that’s a temporary state of affairs, and they face off. Staredowns, with their necks stuck out. I’m gonna be bigger than you real soon.
The layers are a bit bossy to the Silkies, but I’ve also seen the rooster run off a rude big hen. YES. I’m so glad it’s working!
Often the guineas are up on the haybales, just watching everyone else.
They still move as an inseparable unit, even if they’re doing different things. Some will be drinking, or eating, and the others will be curled up resting, but right next to them, and then they will all shuffle along together to the next stop.
Now there are five. One guinea disappeared as a very small chick, in the first few days. Actually vanished – I’ve never found a body, and there were no signs of foul play. In September, I found one hen dead in the morning, of unknown causes, like she died in her sleep. All the others came shuffling out of their hay-cave, and one was left, still. I believe there are now two guinea cocks and three guinea hens, judging by size – the differential is growing.
They look much like turkeys to me now, with bald-ish necks, sparse feathers, and they stick their heads out long. So funny/cute! They are “the Africans” or the “little clowns” because they do funny stuff. They are starting to make their weird sounds, and 5pm is the time to practice, every day. Can hear them ten acres away, shouting.
I “cleaned it up” some in the GH. Made some chicken play structures, which they dutifully appreciate.
All the vegetative debris and dead tomato/squash vines are just entertainment for them. Places to run around and hide, and lose a pursuing rooster. They pull down old tomatoes, eat any leftovers, dig, and dirt bathe. It’s a big party. The cardboard boxes too. They always like standing up on things.
There’s still a truckload of wood chips in there that I pushed aside to plant in, and a great deal of hay, so lots of carbon, and I’ll bring in more if I need to. It smells good, not like a chicken concentration camp. My hens will lay all winter in the greenhouse.
At first the layers weren’t sure. They weren’t allowed in the GH all summer, now they aren’t allowed out? They like to slip out the door behind me when I carry something in. Then five minutes later they’re outside standing on one foot in the frost, looking at me. This was a bad idea! All the food’s in there!
Soon I’m going to introduce a new rooster. He’s a gorgeous young bird, a Copper Maran, big but gentle. I’ve been telling my hens I’m about to set them up with him. I have a younger man for you to meet! I’m hoping that if he’s introduced to an unfamiliar room where the Silkie rooster already rules the roost, they won’t have a bloodbath fight. Because the Silkie would lose. This is why I’ve had to keep the flocks separate before.
I know that the space is too big for one rooster to rule, because the second rooster has started to crow! The poor, put-upon, brown beta rooster, who’s molting with anxiety, has enough literal space now to figuratively spread his wings. I hope to give them each a flock and enclosure of their own next year.
All the birds love salad. I thought I was just being lazy, letting a patch of salad greens go to seed, the mizuna growing into beachball sized clouds, and mustard greens into stalks my height and as thick as my wrist that tipped over under their own weight, but I was actually being brilliantly foresightful. I’m going to do it on purpose next year. The chickens love a good salad. I carry in an armload of greens, sprinkle it in a line along the open side of the GH, and all the birds move in, ripping and picking, all mixed up together in inter-avian harmony. Makes it quiet real quick.
The Silkies especially think that the thing to do with turnip tops is to pick them up and whack! them on the ground. It’s not the usual chicken lift and drop, it’s very aggressive, like they’re flail threshing. What’s really funny is a chick trying to do it to a foot-long turnip frond. That’s like a person taking a 30 foot pine tree and whacking it on the ground. It works about as well for the chick, but they try.
I thought they might be into cold-hardy greens considering what they did to the volunteer kale.
The incursion of the birds has pushed out the rodent population, as I hoped. The numbers are now down to one very bold resident squirrel. I hope he gets pecked. Chipmunks are gone.
Now that the coops are in the greenhouse the first Silkie with aspirations above her station has told a friend. Two Silkies are going into the layer hens’ coop to lay eggs! The one is still sleeping in there. Her chicks are convinced they sleep in the cardboard box still, and every night have to be chucked into their coop.
In the morning, I let the Silkies out first while I do everything, to give them a little advantage, first beak in the trough, before opening the layers. They know. They can hear, and they grumble! The rooster comes and waits at the bottom of the ramp for the Silkie hen to traipse out, then he pounces! Every morning. He knows she’s in there.
I’ve put them in the greenhouse to run wild, since they outgrew the chickery in about a week.
They let me know they were ready to move up in the world by escaping from the chickery. How they did so was and remains a complete mystery, because the chickery is covered with a piece of nylon bird mesh tacked down on the four corners.
First, there was one bird walking around on the outside. Then there was two. Three. Then there were three perching on the top edge, all on the wrong side of the mesh, mesh still intact. Is mystery! Like Houdini.
Since this willy-nilly mystery escape is not safe for them – they do not seem as adept at getting back in, and they could get in trouble not being able to reach water or food.
So I set them free in the greenhouse. 864 square feet to play Wild Jungle Fowl in. When I first released them they were so funny, running with their necks stuck out, all of them chirping excitedly BurBURburBURburBURburBUR!
They travel in a dense little pack, like a school of fish, always tightly together.
They can fly too! They have big old wings already, and have taken confident flight off of my hand.
At night, I’ve been stowing them in with the broody hen I tried and failed to adopt them to. She’s boxed up, on her eggs, and at night I bring the guineas, drop them in the box and they snuggle up around her, or hide in the corner of her box under her butt.
Surrogate mom is surprisingly tolerant. The first couple days she growled at the evening introduction, but in a couple days, it turned to a (resigned?) greeting purr. The chicks would cheep anxiously about the trip in the box, she’d purr reassuringly, and in less than 20 seconds, silence had fallen.
In the morning she’s ready to get rid of them though. They are full of beans and sprint around the box shrieking, running laps that run right over her back. They perch on her back too, sometimes two at a time. She seems pleased to see them go then. She never moves off her eggs.
I was plucking birds out from her broody box one morning and one chick ran to her, thrust his head (only his head) under her wing, and froze. Can’t see me!
Since moving them into the greenhouse from the chickery, the chicks are harder to find at night.
The greenhouse is a multilevel jungle of tomatoes creeping across the top, and squashes growing in all directions. At night, they find a big squash leaf on the floor and all pile up under it, totally hidden.
Unlike chickens, they find a new place to sleep every night, so I have to poke around looking under the big umbrella leaves.
It’s like having ghosts in the greenhouse. When we go in there we might see them at work, but when they see us they all dart away. One was so busy picking bugs off the underside of a leaf it didn’t see the others depart and I got right up to it. EEEEEP! It shrieked and raced away.
If you stay in there longer, you’ll see them slowly work their way through a perimeter sweep, or hopping up to reach the kale leaves.
You’ll hear them cheeping around, but turn around and you might see a shadow scuttle by behind the tomatoes. They are so funny! Always in a little huddle. SO FAST! They streak around, their bodies stable and little orange legs ticking like a chihuahua, necks long and bright orange beaks stuck out.
When they get separated from the pack, even a little distance, they make a sound like a very small car alarm, and the pack shouts back a softer sound, until they’re reunited. I experimented with this. I was trying to teach them to go in the broody box by themselves at night, so I cut a door in it. Poked them all out through the door in the morning.
In the evening, but before it was dark enough for them to have settled down completely, I started to encourage them towards the box, or at least that end of the greenhouse. I grabbed a couple and put them in the box (happy cheeping). The rest did the car alarm sound, then stopped to listen. Cozy, subdued response cheeps. The outside chicks listened to where the others were, then set off at a run, and ran right past the box with the door in it.
Then they stopped, shrieked, listened, and sure they knew now where the others were, ran back the other direction, right past the door in the box. I caught a couple more and put them in the box (more happy cheeping). They go right to sleep cuddled up to the big cozy hen.
The back and forth car alarming, listening, and running past the box continued. They never got it. I had to catch each one and put them in the box. They didn’t figure out the door from the inside either. Although they failed this IQ test, in other ways they seem very clever. They are extremely difficult to catch.
HW has taken to calling them the Africans. To distinguish them from all the other chicks floating around. The teenagers, the smaller chicks, the new chicks, and the Africans. There’re several series running around right now.
In the morning they have a favorite spot on the Southeast corner of the greenhouse, and to get there they have to climb up the hay bales and the squash vines climbing up them, and they perch on the vines or cuddle up in a pile in the first sunbeam on top of the hay. They’re up there, at eye level, when you first come in the door, relaxed in their fort and returning the gaze.