I’ve got all the Silkie hens in the Girls Fort these days. There are too many big hens around, and the meek, peripheral vision-challenged Silkie bantams get nervous and out-competed. So I experimented and put my only three fully adult Silkie hens in with the juveniles- the Sisters and on down. I didn’t know if they would scrap or just get along.Turns out all of them just want to hang on a hay bale. Having all the fluffy ladies behind a fence is driving the roosters out of their minds, though. The 3x-as-large-as-the-hens roosters can handle themselves perfectly well and mix it up with the full size birds. Some Silkie roos outrank the big boys, and aren’t beneath mating the layers. But their preferred girlfriends are locked up, and the Colonel patrols the fence all day.The Colonel. Roos look funny when they’re drinking. Yang having a little post-breakfast head-under-wing nap (before she got taken inside to be a temporary pet).
I was brought out mid-morning to check on the birds because the guineas were putting on an almighty hollering.
The cause? The guinea chick was outdoors for the first time, having made that big hop up to go through the chicken door! The guineas were all worked up about it (they’re so familial). This is the outSIDE! This is GRASS! (sort of). The chick is the lone survivor of a few hatched outdoors, so it may remember “outside”, but it seems it was a big guinea moment nonetheless. Right away the chick slipped through the fence. Here the hens are drawing attention to it- It’s over here!, and it’s barely detectable right by that fence post. Mom came running in, and the chick climbed back in just as easily.
The hen yard is already kind of grim, after freezing, being hammered by rain, and scratched up well. The chickens loooooove that pine tree through. They all cluster up under it for most of the day.
This is the Colonel’s flock of girls – it’s a very large flock, and they group under the pine day all day for a long, relaxed grooming meditation, and often a good perch. Usually there are 2-5 hens perching in the tree at any time. I pruned it out for them hoping they’d enjoy it, so it’s very gratifying to have them enjoy it so completely.
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.
Chickens always love a good canteloupe rind!
They won´t say no to a good egg carton either!
The Brahmas are so striking.
They´re very relaxed.
Maybe a little too relaxed.
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.
Wild jungle chicks:
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.
I was lucky to see and capture Granny and the Colonel sharing an affectionate moment.
These two are the last remaining of my original Silkies that arrived in 2014. Presumably they are the same age. They could easily be 5 or more years old now.
They were just standing in the shade together for a few minutes, while the other Silkies dust bathed on the other side of the tree.
Granny even offered a little grooming.
Granny is doing extremely well. I thought she was on her way out a while ago, but since the hens all moved outside for the summer, she´s been toddling around with the best of them. I think she can´t see as sharp; she doesn´t bounce out of the way like the others and you have to not step on her.
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.
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).
There they are! The four beautiful new hens!
They´re installed in the Silkie coop, which although it´s made for much smaller tenants, is very roomy right now, since the Silkies made a mass migration into the other coop with the big girls.
They´re so relaxed, laid back. They came strolling out, carefully but unconcerned.
They seemed quite pleased with the grass.
They´re huge! Big, cushy birds, like if a couch was a chicken. We carried them over from the driveway in the evening, one under each arm. HW´s nodded off on the walk. We put them in the coop with the two remaining Silkie roosters, who must have been pleased.
In the greenhouse, the chicks are rocking the chickery with their stepmom.
They´re just too cute, with little white bibs and butts.
Trying to crawl under for a warming.
I offended her, obviously. That´s the angry mom face. And stance.
One egg didn´t hatch. Two out of three ain´t bad.
Mom is looking much better. Her confinement allowed her to re grow her back and head feathers, so she´s less funny looking.
HW hasn´t stopped laughing at how big they are, compared to “Mom”. They can stand up while wrapped in a wing, and pop up to eye level with her. They´re not going to fit under her for very long.
A little nap.
Two new guinea hens! Delivered in a feed sack.
Of my remaining guineas (three died before maturity), I´ve been thinking I have only one hen. Maybe. They all have wattles.
I just got it explained to me though, that they do all have wattles, and the gender difference in guineas shows in the SIZE of the wattles. And their overall size. So yes, I have one hen (had).
Regardless, I wanted to even out the numbers some by adding a couple of hens. That would make three hens and two cocks; a better ratio. They arrived this evening.
I carried the sacked birds to the greenhouse in my arms, their little feet holding on to my hands through the bag.
I set them down in the greenhouse.
My hens immediately showed an interest.
I brought in the chickery and placed it around the bag.
The screen doors are off their hinges at the moment, so I used one of those to rest on top of the chickery cage for a lid. I tipped it up to reach in and slide them out of the bag. They were peaceful in the bag, but after being back in the light came on like a couple of jumping beans.
They were not happy about being caged. Not one bit. Racing up and down the walls in agitation.
Uh oh. One´s a guy! That doesn´t help at all!
He´s quite a bit bigger than her, with much bigger wattles.
It took about a tenth of a second for my original guineas to discover the interlopers. They popped their heads in the GH before I turned around.
And then, sure enough, the males squared up at each other through the screen, vigorously pecking at the barrier. Back and forth, like a typewriter.
The originals were quite worked up, and there was much scampering in and out of the greenhouse (Did you see them? Take another look!), but not a lot of noise.
I left them to it.
My big plan was to wait until it got dark enough for the originals to head for bed, whereupon I would shut them in the greenhouse, release the newbies, and they would have overnight to work it out together in the confines of the greenhouse. I was sorry about the zoo cage, but it was only for about an hour, and I didn´t want to risk the new ones taking off in fright and getting lost.
Maybe I shouldn´t have over thought it. A little later, a little darker, I shut the greenhouse doors and lifted the screen door/lid off the new arrivals who were ready to blast out. Hen first, they burst out, flew across the room and skidded to a stop right into the group. They came to a halt, silence fell (!), and all of them proceeded to stand there looking around suspiciously, like they always do.
What? Oh, we know each other. We´re cool.
In three seconds, the new birds are indistinguishable from the old ones. They´re just hangin’ out like they´ve never spent a day apart.
I thought they were going to fight. Maybe they were just excited.
Well, that was easy.
It was rearranging time again in the greenhouse, which is a big party for all the birds.
First their hay bale play structure was on the north side of the greenhouse, now it’s going to the south. The bales are really disintegrating now, but that’s ok. They don’t have to last much longer.
Funny, the most action is not where I’m removing the hay bales from, but where I’m putting them. There’s a bale here now where formerly there was not? Fascinating!
Immediately they have to stand all over it and discuss.
Now they’re starting to get interested in what’s exposed on the other side of the room.
I love the rooster mincing across the high wire. And the guinea on the right.
As usual, the layers tired of the gym and the Silkies came and established their clubhouse.
Could it be? Almost time for the big rooster to go to bed in the coop?
I got him in November, when my last, most excellent and sorely missed, rooster was eaten. He persisted in going to roost on the roof of the coop every night. No biggie. Every night, grab him and set him on the ramp, and he walks up it remarking on how that‘s where all the hens got to. Eventually, through repeatedly waking up inside the coop, he will figure out that that is where he is meant to begin his night. It works for all chickens, usually in a few days. Even the most stubborn little pile of chicks changed their habits in a few weeks.
So for Copperhead, it’s getting on three months. Just when we were starting to notice that he was extra persistent with his roof roosting, I got three new-to-me hens. HW didn’t know about the new arrivals and came in from evening lock-up outraged, that “that new rooster is teaching the hens bad habits. THREE of them were out on the roof with him!” Whereupon I momentarily forgot all about the new arrivals as well and exclaimed “Really? Three of them?”
The three “new” hens showed surprising attachment to the rooster and roof, also bedding on the roof, night after night. They would arrange themselves in the same order, make the same indignant sounds when grabbed and displaced to the ramp.
The rooster even came to know the whole routine. Our arrival after dusk means a grabbing, and he’d stand up and get nervous as soon as the door opened. We had to strategize; alternate grabbing him or the hens first, because he started to ran away once all the hens had been removed; he knew it was his turn. We tried agitating him off the roof right at dusk, and then, it being too dark to fly up again, he’d walk around and find his way up the ramp himself “Oh, that’s where all you ladies went!” We were hopeful. It didn’t work.
HW has been casting aspersions on his intelligence from the beginning, and this isn’t helping.
Days went by. Weeks. Rooster and three hens, evening lockup = nightly roo-grab. Then one night, there were only two hens. One hen had figured it out! She turned out to be the precocious one of the three. More days passed, turning into two weeks. Then another hen went to bed on her own (four days ago). And tonight, oh frabjous day! the rooster was out there alone! Looking pouty and forlorn, too. Now, now surely he will get the hint!
(I wrote this a week ago. He’s still holding out alone on the roof.)
There’s little I enjoy more than driving home new hens. Usually in some ersatz container – sheet over stock tank, random boxes. Today my coat over a box with no bottom.
I like carrying them hugged in my arm for the first time, telling them they’re going to a new home now, their heads bobbing around looking at everything from 4´ higher up than usual. Sliding them into the carrying container du jour. The quiet that falls once we get on the road, broken by a few questioning little chirps from the backseat, some shuffling on tight corners. I sing to them, or play the radio
Today I picked up three hens I hadn’t known I would be, leftovers from the year’s laying flock that were hanging around as outlaws in the barn. I can’t resist a good hen, especially when it’s otherwise doomed.
They’re nice. Low hens, tame and easy to catch. Curious, as they always are, but laid back. In the dark I carried the broken-bottomed box of birds on my forearms, with their feet sticking through and grabbing onto me, from my truck to the greenhouse to tuck them into the coop, their new home.
Tomorrow they will meet the rooster.
Since the most determined little brown hen got up off her eggs for the second time, right before they were due, toasting another clutch, I finally listened to HW and removed her from the coop and locked her up. This is her third nearly-complete round, and that’s a long time for her to be sitting and mostly not eating.
Another brown hen went broody at the same time, and I got to them just in time, as each already had an eight egg horde- a little ambitious, but it’s summer, so I let them keep all eight. Now they are boxed.
HW and I went back and forth- I have had bad luck when I interfere with them, but it has also not gone well when I don’t interfere with them. They find ways to screw up; it’s very frustrating. He told me “just take them out of the coop entirely, then there’s no distractions, no more eggs to steal”. This means I will have to reintroduce them to the flock, and learning how to go in and out of the coop may be that much harder, but we’ll cross that hurdle once we get some chicks, I suppose.
They are in ventilated boxes next to the door of the greenhouse. I’m a bit paranoid of them getting too hot in there, and how secure are they in the GH at night?, but so far, so good. There is always a healthy cooling draft through the GH. They each have a fount with their poultry vitamin supplement (chicken Gatorade), and a little bowl of food, which they both consume a little of every day, I’m glad, and I sometimes have to scoop their poop.
There are four more sister hens and the original white hen (outside), who is a little old lady now. She seems to have shrunk, so tiny when you pick her up. Still cranky though. If any more drop into the broody trance, I’m going to have a whole lineup of bird boxes.
Today I open the coop to this mess.
How exactly did they get an egg in the fount?
The fount is in there for the determined broody who was settled in. I thought I’d try out letting her set in the coop. It’s not going well.
My Silkies are trying. Very trying.
The last of my originals are the good rooster and the little white hen, who is smaller all the time (shrinking)- a little wraith of a chicken- but still feisty, cranky, and laying. The other hens are all former chicks, hatched last year, who are now trying to figure out how to become mother hens, but are rather bad at it and do not accept instruction.
First they all went broody one after the other, in March. A little early, Missy’s, but, if you must… They decided to pile up together right at the top of their ramp, a small-brained decision. Eggs roll, after all. And the roosters would step on them on their way into the coop.
Then, the egg-thieving began. These Slkies are champion egg thieves. It’s an ongoing problem. At first, the let-no-egg-go-untended ethos seemed good, as when any of the sisters left for a drink or a quick bite, her eggs were promptly grabbed and tucked under a hot furry chicken breast.
Curious how they moved eggs around as they obviously, frequently do, I’d wondered about their egg-rolling methods until I saw them do it, right under my hands. It turns out the beak and the egg are perfectly adapted to each other when it comes to rolling. I was shuffling irritated hens around to see what was under them, an egg came into sight, and whisk! The hen (in my hands) stretched out her beak and flick-rolled that egg into her own collection as fast as a blink. OK, then!
So these broody sisters were playing egg-snatchers, and sometimes a hen would have no eggs, another would have too many. The egg arms race.
I tried to move three of the most committed birds into a shared broody box (still in the coop), but they were having none of it. Two escaped the box and returned to their original precarious choice (top of the ramp), leaving one heroically topping a mound of abandoned eggs.
I was reluctant to take any of them out of the coop because it seems cold to be away from the familial body heat.
I let them have it their way. It did not go well. Eggs vanished. One hen decided to set a clutch way too big for her under the ramp, and when I culled her holdings she restored her stock from who-knows-where.
Eventually all the hens but one gave up and moved on with another phase in their lives. That one, so determined, sat and sat. She’s a classy polite little brown lady, like her mom the first brown hen. When it went far too long for anything to be alive under her, I took and broke her eggs, and sadly, half of them were almost finished before they died. I don’t know why; there must have been some event. The others were horribly rotten, gah!
She’s so fixed though (I’m hatching a damn egg if it’s the last thing I do!), that I gave her four new eggs, and, worried for her body weight, her own snack bar, which I think she ignores but the other hens polish off.
A few days later, I was tucking fresh hay around her and peeked- seven eggs! Sigh, here we go. I suppose she’s taking them from the other side of the coop where the other ladies are laying and leaving these days. I have to watch these little birds, but they do not make it easy to help them.
(just after this I resorted to sequestering each hen with about seven eggs in a box of her own in the greenhouse, and the Silkie population is now burgeoning)
I found a dead body in the Silkie coop. At first I thought it was a developing cockerel and wondered the cause.
Only later I realized who was missing- the little brown mama :(
A shame, she was such a good little mother, but I guess it was her time to go. I don’t even know how old she was.
She certainly went out in a blaze of progeny…
We collected our pre-ordered 18-week old layers from the co-op today. A half dozen of them, to refill our stock. Three birds were lost last year to various predators, because I couldn’t get them in the greenhouse fast enough.
They’re cute. Really not much more than teenagers. Very slim, with tiny pink combs. We brought them home in two tupperwares, and fenced off a corner of the GH for them.
HW was all for dumping them out of the bins, but I insisted they be allowed to relax and come out when they were ready. They took their sweet time coming out on their own.
When the chicken man was shoving chickens into the boxes of all the people arriving for their layers, he paused with us and said “There’s a weird chicken here. It’s all white. Otherwise normal. Do you want the weird chicken?”
Of course, I said. I’ll take the weird chicken. So we have one reverse chicken, white, with flecks of brown.
Right on time:) At the end of the day I insisted on preparing the red hen’s box for the arrival of chicks- cleaning out her turd mountain and soggy food and replacing her bedding, and lo and behold, there was peeping! OMG, peeping! I picked up the protesting red hen to see and a wet little tadpole of a chick fell out, wriggling on its back like a turtle. Yay, a chick!
It did seem like she was unusually alert all day.
Another chick! A little spotted one, with markings on its back like a spider! Maybe one of the black hen’s eggs, or the red hen’s. Yesterday’s chick is white, now that it’s dried out and fluffy. There’s one more egg with pipping; there’s a little beak visible, but it has not made progress over the day. They are so, unbelievably cute, and tiny! One little chick is weightless in my hand.
Well, the results of the ambiguous candling are now officially confirmed. I removed all the unhatched eggs and looked through them with light again. The opaque eggs at 15 days were full of chicks, and the clear/translucent eggs were eggs either never fertilized or lost for some reason extremely early. Three and three. So the red hen is essentially at 66%, if I gave her three non-viable eggs to start with. The third chick died, and did not complete hatching, which is too bad. To get that close! I unpeeled the shell around it. It is indeed amazing how packed in there they are, and how well developed. They come out and they function completely- standing, eating, digesting, communicating. Amazing.
The two living chicks are toddling around and spending most of their time under mom. The chicks come and go from under her, vigorously nudging when they want back under until they get let in under a breast or a wing. She’s still in her broody bedded-down state, and I’m hoping she’ll come out of it now and start mothering. There’s no plan B if these hens are lousy mothers. I sure hope she’s having them eat and drink when I’m not looking. I’m worried about them falling into even the smallest waterer, and have modified a little tub for mom to drink from. I held each one to the chick nipple and forced them to have a little drink. In lieu of chick starter, they have a fruit and veggie chopped salad and cooked quinoa.
Adorable! The tiny chicks burrow under mom when they get cold, and pop out to look around. They bounce around their box and peep a lot. They glug from the water nipple like pros! Mom is actively participating, very loudly cheeping over new food, poking them under her. They’ve made a mess of their box scratching the food around, and every day I remove mom’s droppings. The chicks are so small their turds are about the size of a buckwheat grain. Although even these chicks are huge compared to songbirds, they seem so tiny to me compared to standard day-old chicks. Already they have their wing feathers appearing on their nubby little wings.
The temperature has dropped a lot, so winter is close enough to smell. The white hen must be due any day now. She went broody a few days after the red hen but I didn’t note it exactly.
After a day in Halifax we came home to a new chick! Already fluffy and poking out from mama’s wing, this one must have hatched early in the day. We prepped up a new chick box for the white hen and moved her and her eggs into it to finish hatching. Yay! I’m counting on more from her. There’s sure to be another chick by morning.
No new chicks in the morning:( I was at work all day, and the text message reports flowed in! A new chick mid morning! Another soggy chick in the afternoon! I came home, and OMG, one of them is smoke grey! One is very yellow! So tiny, amazing all over again. The eggs are cracked in half, opened around the center like a seam, expertly.
Just the few days difference between the sets of chicks and the growth is visible.
Now there are two mom boxes in the coop and the rooster sleeps between them. H.W. thinks he must be really forlorn now everyone’s gone.
It sure seems to me like they’re looking proud!
The white hen has 75% success. One of her four eggs failed as well, and similarly close to done. I cracked the dead egg to see and the nearly completely formed chick was sharing space still with some yolk. It must have died in the last few days. But three very alive, and mobile. The white hen has an amusing defence tactic. She lowers her head and lifts up her butt and makes angry noises. She tries to back her chicks into a corner and guard them like this. The chicks still come leaking out and hopping around, and it doesn’t do anything to stop me from lifting her up to clean under her.
The first month. In which, difficulties “training” chickens to utilize new accommodations emerge.
Crowing. Early, loud, and continuous.
We peeked at them, all perched inside but the white hen still in the cardboard box. There are two cocks (white) and three hens, which are white, brown (“red”), and black, which makes it very easy to describe all of them without names. We have a “little red hen”! Emphasis on the little. They’re small.
We had to staple on some mesh to create a “downstairs” compartment to contain them in the morning before we opened the ramp, so we worked around the base of the coop.
Dead silence from inside while we worked. Except when we were chatting with some passing biologists, right next to the coop, and suddenly a big cock-a-doodle-do issues from the box. We finished our little fence, dropped the ramp and waited for the first explorer to peek out. They didn’t. Left them to it.
An hour later. Crowing! Does that mean? Yes, The big rooster was down, crowing about his accomplishment. We watched him discover the joys of vegetation. Exploratory peck- hmmm. Hmm! More pecking. Vigorous plant consumption. We waited for the others to follow him down the ramp. Nothing. Thought ramp might be too steep for these tiny birds and made temporary adjustments.
An hour later. Anxious clucking alerted me and I caught HW trying to chivvy the other birds down with a stick. He got the angry wife face. I said let them find their own way down! He got the red hen down though and she was instantly enjoying herself, and he confidently predicted that one hen down would make the others come.
Not true. Another hour later. No more birds down the ramp and red hen and rooster enthusiastically decimating the veg on their own. I peeked inside to see if there was progress and they were all roosting! I initiated chivvying with a stick.
Didn’t work. Nooo! We dread the ramp! Escalated to us grabbing the birds – BLOODY MURDER!! – and thrusting them down the hole where they stumbled down the ramp and immediately began purring and pecking. Oh. It’s nice down here. I had a sinking feeling that this tableau might repeat in reverse in the evening to get them back in.
Peace, for the rest of the day. Cute little chickens.
We watched them some and decided they’re very gentle. Not one peck on each other. Also very small. The roosters are twice as big as the hens, like a different breed. H.W. said “the hens look like they’re crouching down, but they’re not, they’re just that small.” The roosters are very handsome, with purple combs so dark they’re almost black. One is smaller than the other, with different facial flesh, and never crows. The one who does is missing one syllable from his cock-a-doodle-do, so it’s more like it’s the DAY here. Or on some days, it’s a DOWNpour. Other than the obvious rooster supremacy, it’s hard to determine any order among them.
Alarmingly, we never catch them drinking, and I worry they’re weirded out by the unfamiliar water fount. Provide a variety of water vessels.
H.W. also says “They’re like city chickens. First day in the country,” because they aren’t too energetic, and not much into scratching. Very calm. Not used to grass. Never seen a ramp before. He thinks they’ll figure it out, though.
Near the evening we were watching and they seemed much more relaxed. Too relaxed. Hey! I think they’re settling for the night. Definitely, hunkering down in the corner for keeps.
Chivvying with a stick…
The afternoon performance, luckily, was not as dramatic and traumatic as the morning. Poking towards ramp – ok, we’ll hide under the ramp. Underramp blocked off with cardboard. One inch at a time, up the ramp, protesting. Jump off the ramp, start over. The red and black hens, halfway up, settled down comfortably I’ll just stay here for the night. No, really, I’m good here. See, dozing. Finally had to reach in and put them up by hand. No panic or outrage though.
Shut the ramp. Look at each other. This better not happen every day.
Drop the ramp. High hopes for a better beginning than yesterday. Now they know what it’s like downstairs, and that’s where the food is, surely…
Half hour later I peek and all the birds are clustered around the hatch. Much better.
Crowing! First rooster down; proud of it.
An hour later. What happened to the rest of you guys … hey, what, you’re roosting!?!
Get the stick.
Anything but the ramp! We’d rather starve than go down the ramp! Roost to the death! This time I opened the lid too far and the second rooster escaped. He was so horrified with his freedom OMG, now what do I do!? Get back in. CAN’T! he promptly ran into the long grass and sank down to hide, where I threw my shirt over him and calmly picked him up and deposited him on lower level. Slowly, patiently, with a long stick, persuaded all the hens to go down the ramp by themselves. Oh, happy place! So all but the second cock made their own way downstairs, however reluctantly. Really, this better not happen every day.
About this time H.W. started speculating that they may not be the smartest breed in the species.
Peace for the day.
Adorable. Little head poufs, fuzzy little bodies, low to the ground. Their feathers are fine like hair, so they resemble long haired cats, especially the cocks with their luxurious manes. Except entirely the wrong shape to be cats, obvs. They are very calm outside of times of upramp-downramp transitions. And quiet. The cock rarely crows during the day. Before dawn, however… Still no crows from the second rooster.
I made a temporary coop extension so that they could get a little farther away from me while I made some refinements and permanent ramp adaptations. First design definitely too steep. They quickly accepted me and the drill sounds and stretched out in the sun in a feathery pile. Was pleased that they had the sense to make themselves dust baths, at least, which looks like they’re burying themselves, flattening down in, squabbling over the deep spot my turn. Still worried that I never see them drinking, but they’re doing plenty of eating.
Noticed they were making weird sounds like a baby crying and sat down to watch for a bit. Feared dehydration was causing painful wailing. But it was the roosters making the sounds. Could it be, bedtime noises? Head count, double take, hey wait, where’s the white hen? Peeked up hatch and she was sitting inside, looking down the ramp. Yay! One of them has sense!
Sat to watch the process. Will they do it on their own?
Edging towards ramp. Crowding on first step of ramp. Everyone wants to be only on the first step of the ramp. First cock steps over the crowd and walks slowly but surely upstairs. Yay! Two of them up, no, wait… White feet coming down the ramp. Oh no! It’s the white hen, followed by the first rooster!
Backsliding. Second rooster passes everyone to go up, then comes back down. Not done eating. Red and black hens creep to halfway up the ramp. White hen goes up (all of these advances and retreats at molasses speed), passes red and black hens on their way back down. They go back to eating. First rooster up. Two up, three down. Second rooster and black and red hens have a second wind and renew foraging. Hens make pathetic attempts to get on the ramp from the side, hurling themselves at it. No matter, resume eating. Second rooster goes up to stay; first rooster comes down. Does some more eating, thoughtfully sneaks up on black hen and pounces on her. Amorous attempt thwarted. Waits for black and red hens to sort themselves out on the base of the ramp and begin their tentative, glacial progress up it. Going, going, oh, second thoughts… first cock distinctly gives red hen a push with his head. Going, gone!
Success. 7:06 pm
Close the ramp. Well, can count on them for half the process. Dare I hope for the morning?
Opened ramp at dawn.
Replete with faith that they would surely show themselves out today, and sure that the crowing after a period of quiet meant they had done so, I left them alone for a couple hours.
Check on them. Are you kidding me? No chickens downstairs.
Stick. First rooster immediately bounces downstairs. Rest of the birds jam themselves into the other three corners and mount a determined resistance with a great deal of flapping.
They’re all still alive, so they must be getting enough to drink, but I wonder why they’re so private about it.
With little miniature chickens, everything is miniature. I make dispensers out of pop bottles; a little scoop of food is all they need. They’re so tiny. The taller roosters have mostly naked legs with a feather accent on their feet, but the ladies apparently have feathers all the way down their legs. It gives the impression that they’re wearing little feather clown pants. That and the puffball on the head-they are very funny looking chickens. Super cute, though, little and soft, funny looking and adorable.
What the heck? Mid afternoon, three of the birds are upstairs? Are they thinking about laying? Second cock and white hen positively snuggling in a corner. I leave them to it and provide water.
Other two content. Black hen maybe more than content; posted up in front of the new feeder, scarfing. They go up by evening.
Opened ramp. First rooster down before I walk out of sight. A new record.
Will they or won’t they?
They won’t. Bring on the sticks.
This time all the birds quietly and reluctantly, but with painful slowness, approach the ramp and walk themselves down it as though they meant to, albeit coerced in that direction. Major progress.
10 am, all but the first cock are back upstairs. This is ridiculous. It’s like kids- you have to go play outside. Introduce stick – rooster immed. comes upstairs to see what the ruckus is about. They all troop down relatively cooperatively in a line. I observe that the biggest psychological barrier seems to be the hop off the perch, even though it’s only a few inches high. They bob their heads and think about that step for a while.
Phew- witness rooster drinking. Ok.
Now you see them, now you don’t. Little pompom heads all go to bed while we’re not looking around 6 pm.
Opened ramp. An instant of silence, then happy clucking and thump, rooster hops off perch, emerges, and crows about it.
I still have optimism.
Completely unfounded. An hour later, all the rest still perching.
H.W.: “Ok, at this point it’s just annoying.”
Brandish stick and all of them hop down and make their way out in a line as though they were waiting for stick time, except red hen, who watches exodus interestedly and exhibits some anxiety once everyone’s gone but recovers and settles in to stay. Encourage with stick and she goes.
A couple hours later, notice all of them are back upstairs. Why? We leave for a few hours and they’re still in there when we get back. Chase them out with a stick and they quite obediently trot downstairs and eat. Go to bed at 7.
How long will this go on? Only the rooster seems to think going down for a bite to eat and a drink is an idea worth taking the initiative to do. Why are they not normal?
A breakthrough! Not in the morning though- had to chase them out, per usual. At the appearance of the stick they file out and down the ramp obediently.
But midday, the brown hen was upstairs, then, she was down again! Later, the white one did the same! Yay, now we know that the ramp is known as a passage that functions in two directions, for three of the birds. If they go upstairs early, we know they know how to come back down should they get hungry or thirsty. They are now scratching and scuffing in a more typical chicken way, churning up the floor of the coop like you’d expect chickens to. It’s almost like they had to learn or remember how to do that.
Rooster bounds out as soon as the ramp drops, and he has also learned the sounds of food. When he’s upstairs in the day and I approach and open the sides, he knows that means that I’m throwing some more food in. He starts chirruping even before -thump– he hops off the perch and runs down the ramp. He’s not always joined by the ladies, though, even though he clearly announces feasting time.
Today we decided to open up the downstairs and let them loose, since we were going to work on the garden right next to them. Our nearness would protect them from aerial predators. I opened one side wide. The rooster was looking hard, sorta skeptically. Something is different here. Eventually, he slowly stepped out, then stepped a little faster, then called the rest, and they were off. The red hen had retired already after a breakfast browse, and no sooner did H.W. say “the red hen’s upstairs, she’s gonna miss out!” that her brown feathered feet appeared at the top of the ramp. She peeked out over her feet. ??? What!? Grass party? Then trundled down hastily to join in. Very funny. All of them walked in a line behind the rooster out into the tall grass, taller than them. I’d expected them to stick more closely to the coop, but they were off. Chicken safari!
They toddled off in a big loop, and I thought the rooster might lead them to the shade of the trees- we’d have to head them off – but he got cold feet or else was upset that the hens had lost interest in single file and started to disperse. Oh, tasty, oh and this over here is tasty too… He turned around and both roosters worked quickly together to group up the hens again, then they returned to the shady side of the coop, not the side they’d left from. How do we get back in? I opened the other sides for them (3 sides of the coop have mesh “doors” that can be peeled open for throwing in snacks, or changing the water). I left them open and the birds all roamed freely in and out and stayed nearby for the rest of their free time. The second rooster made a spectacle of himself stretching and lounging in the dust bowl with his feet sticking out in the air, and the white hen posted up over her anthill. She has discovered ants. A couple days ago I uncovered an anthill in their coop and the birds walked vaguely around it, over it; the ants walked over their feet and feathers. Sigh. The white hen has figured it out, though, and clearly loves the ants. She spends ages standing on the anthill, her attention completely fixed. They all seemed much more relaxed with us; not sure if they’re getting used to us or if they were more comfortable with the doors open because they weren’t confined.
H.W. was chucking worms to them from the garden and the rooster figured out very quickly who was the purveyor of worms and started watching H.W. like a hawk for the next toss, edging out towards us. I’m impressed with the first rooster. Smart, aware, taking care of the ladies. It’s nice that the two roosters get along so well, and cooperate at times. Never dispute. I’m not sure how the second rooster feels about his total subordination, but it’s pleasant for everyone that he doesn’t squawk about it, literally.
These chickens are adorable. Fluffy, cute, very sweet, gentle and quiet chickens, slow, in more ways than one. They border very closely on lazy. It’s nice to not worry about aggression. They never peck each other, and rarely get worked up at all. I can see why they’re a maternal breed. The black hen seems like the dimmest, but she also seems like the first cock’s favourite. Maybe she just needs the extra attention.
So, when will we get an egg?
Rooster decided to help plant potatoes and unexpectedly came up in our zone to do a little strutting on top of the mounded potato bed. Also witnessed first squabble between white and black hen (white won). May have been over ants. New coop location means new excavations, and they’ve been drilling little holes like wells. White hen has made one her whole head fits in.
No stick! All the hens follow the rooster down slowly and talkatively, black hen in the lead (a surprise), and red hen lingering straggler (not a surprise). But was it really on their own? I did tire of waiting and opened the lid, which is usually closely followed by the stick, so were they really responding to the opening lid?
What the heck?
These are egg falsies, put in the nests as a inspiration and reassurance to layers in a new place, that this is where eggs go. The ‘what the heck’ is that two are in one box (I “seeded” one in each). So somehow, without thumbs, one or more of these chickens moved a fake egg over the wall between the nests! Even crazier is that it would have been much easier to bump it out the lower front of the nest box, but no, they knew it belongs in a box. How? When? How long did that take? Where’s the chicken cam when you need it?
Still need to open the lid in the morning to provoke the exit downramp, but don’t need the stick. Ok, ok, we’re going.
Also standard to roust them out mid afternoon and chase them downstairs to eat some more. It can’t be right for them all to go to roost as early as noon. H.W.: “Get downstairs and do something if you’re not going to lay eggs up here! What a lazy bunch of perch potatoes!”
Today was a cool, foggy, damp day, with the moisture in the air making all the spider net webs visible on the shrubs and soaking our pant legs in the grass. The chickens roamed much farther during their supervised free range time while we dug garden beds, maybe because it was cool. I love the chicken soundtrack while we dig. They were obviously loving it, burrowing in the grass and simultaneously eating and rolling around, which is the funniest- upside down writhing chicken pausing to peck, peck, resume wriggling. They were hilariously entertaining, scattering around away from the coop (making the rooster nervous), disappearing in the greenery, eating grass blades like spaghetti, digging little holes to writhe in, and getting themselves wet and dirty, making their little head feathers all punk rock spiky. How small they are is all too obvious once they get out in the grass, and make no impact on it at all. We really need another fleet of (full-sized) chickens to scratch and fertilize (and lay eggs) in a meaningful way. H.W. was teasing me about my fluffy little toy chickens. But then he announces he’s named them all. Pardon? So he loves them too. They are a not very useful bunch of tiny toy chickens, but they’re a start.
All of the birds come and go freely, up and down. Mostly up, though. Especially the red hen loves a siesta. An all-day siesta. They eat and rummage around in the grass for a few hours, or maybe just one, then it gets hot and they go upstairs. To perch, not to sit promisingly in a nest box, despite earlier evidence of someone using a box. Or it’s cool and wet and they go upstairs. Or they get bored and go upstairs. Or they’re all narcoleptic. Is this the expression of their extra-broody Silkie nature? The hens retire sooner than the roosters, but they too follow the ladies upstairs far too early. It’s become routine to chase them all back downstairs in the afternoon for another round of eating and foraging.
White hen was avoiding the attentions of the rooster and ran into the tall grass and held still, invisible but for her poofy puffball of a head poking up on the lookout. Bright white Q-tip in the grass. It is funny that most weeds are bigger than they are.
H.W., frustrated with the birds’ continued non-productivity and also concerned they aren’t spending enough time down to properly feed themselves, chased them back downstairs three times before lunch. “What are ya doin’ upstairs again already, ya roost russets?” All this accomplished was making the three hens roost on the ramp in a line, uncertainly hunkering down in no-mans-land, which was very amusing. So chickens can be trained. They were tempted off the ramp later by some fresh scraps, then promptly went upstairs for the night. What’s up with them? They “range” barely a few feet from the coop, eat enthusiastically but not for long, and only occasionally enjoy a long ant feast or sunsprawl/dust bath. Most often they slip upstairs after a short snack, and may or may not come out again in the afternoon on their own. How are they getting enough to eat or drink that way? And what does it take to get eggs out of them? They are the most relaxed, laid-back chickens I’ve ever seen, so I think they’re content enough..?
The presence of two roosters is so far impeding any budding love in the henyard, or at least any consummation. Regularly the main rooster picks out a hen and stalks her meaningfully. Usually the girls scurry away squawking and hide themselves in the weeds, but if he’s lucky enough to get up on her, then the second rooster in a smooth flanking manoeuvre strolls up to the proceedings and –Pop! plucks a feather out of the amorous rooster’s tail. That ends things instantly, as the randy rooster lifts straight into the air with a surprised squawk and the hen escapes. The tail-puller is already gliding away, snacking nonchalantly. Seen this cock-blocking happen like it’s scripted, three times now. Hilarious! H.W. even narrates: “- Hey! Get offa her! – You! Are not helping! – Whatever might you be talking about?” But it lessens my confidence in a future of fertilized eggs. We’ll have to lock up one of them when we need viable eggs.
Successful mating also happens. That’s good to know. I guess you win some you lose some. Rooster walks right up to me when I come with food. He’s on the ball, always watching. One of us regularly boots them back outside in the afternoon and they come out, eat and explore good-naturedly for awhile. They move a little farther from the coop than they used to, and are obviously very comfortable with their new free-range identity, grazing and lounging in the long grass, sunning and scratching in the short grass. No eggs yet. Their cost so far: $9 hardware cloth (extra on the bottom of the coop not necessary); $5 food (consumed). I guess that’s only about 4 dozen eggs (not yet laid), but not too big a deficit for them. Total expenditures include grit and oyster shell $10.15, which it will take them months to eat, a $32 bag of organic feed, who knows how long that will take to eat, and more hardware cloth than was reasonable to buy, but makes it easy to build more coops. I recommend knowing exactly how much hardware cloth you need before going to the store and being put on the spot at the cash register. It comes in 2, 3, and 4’ widths.
We picked up chickens from some nice people with an impressive menagerie of exotic pheasants, peacocks, and chickens (their amazing place is for sale, too, if anyone is into birds in a big way). After a mad shrieking (the chickens, not us) scramble to catch the right birds and stuff them (all five together) into a box, we spent some time there visiting, then drove almost an hour home. They were mostly quiet on the way, just some scuffling and disgruntled noises on some curves in the road.
Evening was coming on fast when we got home, and we were bringing hardware cloth for the coop home at the same time as the occupants, that we had to install before we could put the birds in for the night. We quickly tacked the mesh on the bottom, creating the secure “upstairs” interior, and used plumbing strap to put on the poles for carrying it. Then we tipped the coop back upright and moved it to the garden area where we want them scratching.
Yep, heavy. H.W. :“Yeah, I feel like an Egyptian slave, carrying the king on a litter.”
All ready to release the birds into their new home!
Excited, we carried the box of birds up from the car and put it on the floor inside the coop.
Reached in to open the flaps, waiting for the heads to pop up, and… nothing. All the birds were burrowed down on the floor of the box, in a very awkward-looking pile, heads down.
Peeked in on them later, and they hadn’t moved. Spending the night in the box, then.