Tag Archives: Silkie

Melons and hens

I got a few watermelons this year, that was exciting.  Yellow flesh and pink flesh melons. Watermelons before:

And after:And a little later:The chickens love their melons.

Speaking of melons – a bucket of cucamelons.  Weird little things, supposed gourmet items, exTREMEly productive. They are starting to fall off in the GH, raining like hail.  To the pigs, as usual.

A rubber egg, almost perfectly intact.That won’t last long

What?

The hens are enthusiastically emptying out the bucket of greens.  Chard and green cabbage yes, celery and red cabbage, no thanks. They have to reach down a bit farther. 

tiptoes

This little beast, the Deputy, lower right, thinks he’s the big king now.Look at all those ladies he’s managing.  This is the second in command Silkie rooster, who has recently decided to organize the house hens – the layer hens who hang around our house, mooching and sunning in the paths.  Now he thinks he’s a big boss.  Some of them even let him mate them, which is truly awkward.  He’s so small, sometimes he tips over and falls off of them.  If hens could roll their eyes.

The Colonel concerns himself with his own breed, and the young Ameracuana roos that are coming up haven’t come into their oats yet and are still meek.

 

Greenhouse denizens

They grow up so fast!

The jungle chicks are romping and growing up in the greenhouse as the squashes die back and the cukes decline on the vine.  The visibility in there is a lot better these days.

It’s almost hard to tell the adult moms from the chicks, who have taken their final form, but are still miniature versions of it.  (Mom is foreground, the only adult)

Then there’s the other chicks, the Chanticleers, which are a long way off of their final size, and still about the same size as the Silkie chicks.

Apparently, they’re perchers.  They’re always standing up on something.  Funny.

This one has a sidekick on the ground, but he/she’s blurred because turning head

Halfway up the tomato vines.

Ground support is more prominent in this shot, but the whole thing is out of focus!

Feelin’ broody

In the late 80s, there was a hair styling product called Mudd.

This hen saved her money and went with the Mud with one D.  Her hair is nearly dreaded.

Well, I’ve got another broody hen.  A bit late, but that’s ok.  I’ve had November chicks before.  Two Silkie hens failed to brood this year (psst, I think they’re defective), but this is a proven mom. Tomorrow I’ll have to box her.

I wonder if this is the lady who lunches.  I suspect it is, because both moms are usually front and center in the GH come feeding time.

*Yep, it’s the one who leaves her eggs to eat.  The eggs were abandoned this morning at breakfast time, but I felt them- still hot.  Except for the risk of not getting back on the right eggs, this makes sense.  At the end of a brood, she won’t be starving and depleted.  And cranky.  Especially if she’s running her heater in the early winter.

Goodbye Granny

Little Granny died last night.  The last of my three original hens out here.

She’s been hopping around with surprising vigor this summer, but I guess it was her time.  Yesterday I found her face down in the grass against the greenhouse and I thought she was dead then.

I picked her up gently and her head popped up with the usual indignation Hey, what’s a chicken gotta do to get a nap around here? so I set her down again nearer the flock, but that was it.

She made a rapid transition.  Often hens linger for a few days, standing around in a kind of half-asleep state before they go.  I always wonder if they’re in pain when they go like that, but they seem to just slip away, from dozing to tucking their head under a wing for the last time.

 

Worldwash

The world got a thorough washing yesterday, with spectacular lightning and thundering, and possibly 90mm of rain here.

I filled every vessel I had; the wheelbarrow filled in about 10 seconds it was coming so hard.  The paths were all rivers during the worst of it.

All the chickens were hiding under their tents, even the guinea chicks. 

In the greenhouse, new mama has a little entourage of chicks in the tomato forest.  One had a beakful of tomato, quite proud of itself.  I know they are going to taste test all the ripe tomatoes they can reach.  Oh well.

Later on, the sun came out.  The guinea chicks are growing by the day and getting tamer, slowly.  They learned to fly up onto the hen coop, and were practicing that, flying up, jumping off.

Oreos and the Cobra mom

The only time to see the wild Oreos up close is evening time in the coop.  They are handsome looking now, and not so much filling as cookie these days – they´re turning out raven black, with the blackest glossy legs.

 

 

 

The guinea hen is definitely setting.

This is early on – is she or isn´t she?

Later on she scraped up all the hay in the coop, and made a lovely, perfectly round nest with high walls.  When she flattens out and dozes, you can barely see comb over the sides of her nest.

No idea how many eggs she´s got.  Easily 20.  Perhaps a chicken egg got in there too.  In fact, she could be due any day.  I don´t know about guinea terms, but she´s got to be close.

And since there´s only three birds walking about yet, I suspect those three are the boys, and the other hen has found her own nest site somewhere in the woods. May she walk out healthy one day with a trail of chicks.

While I´m delighted that she´s pleased enough with the coop I made them to brood in it, there are some things that I did not consider.  Such as, what happens when they hatch?

She hasn´t lifted off that nest for a moment, so I´m thinking as soon as they hatch she´ll be ready for a snack.  And then day old guinea chicks will start pouring out of the coop, six feet off the ground?  If they do bounce, then, how about when mom goes back to bed?  If I lift in the chicks, she´ll come blazing out, the chicks will follow her out…this is a circular vision.

I decided to put a screen door on the coop so I can keep them all in there a couple of days, or something.

Applying the screen door was fine.  When I set a dish of food and water inside the door, however, whoooweee!

She is terrifying!  She opens her mouth like a cobra, spreads her wings wide and full, so she looks like a flat feather wall, and stares.  Then one piercing squawk, and wham! cobra strike.  She gave me a good chomp.  Same when I refilled the water, after she tugged the dishes in close to the circle around her nest.  Then I had to reach in even closer to her.  I didn´t risk the food dish.

Yikes.

And then four hens decided to hang out in the woodshed, even though it wasn´t raining.

Tomatoes already?!

I haven’t even gotten everything into my garden yet, and tomatoes are already forming in the greenhouse.  I’ve also canned a round of rhubarb.  I think it’s not good when the harvest starts before the planting is done.  Better…next…year.

In the meantime, my greenhouse companions, the Blondies, are joyously scritching around in the heavy mulch, until it gets too hot and I kick them outside for the day.

One chick decided to have a dust bath.  Very funny – a chick the size of a tennis ball taking a dust bath.  Really into it.  I’ve not seen a little chick dust bathe before.

They’re getting their wing feathers and little stubby tails.

A pile of snakes sunning in the pile of straw.

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:

Peep peep!

Three new blondies!  This Silkie hen hatched out three of three “cuckoo eggs” – full sized Ameracauna eggs. 

These three, unlike the last two (Oreos), while also Ameracunas, happen to be blondes!

That´s time-for-a-nap behavior.  Burrowing in.

Gone to bed.

This hen also molted before going broody, but didn’t regrow during her confinement.

I haven´t had little yellow chicks for a long long time!

Granny and Grampy having a moment

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.

Adorable!

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.

Surprise! Additions to the family

I came home from work to find two new little black chicks bouncing around the box with (step-)Mom!  They´re already done?  Time flies!

I came back later with a camera and it was a different story.  Nothing to see here.  The chicks were stowed.  She has one more egg too.

Mom´s looking good.  She´s had time to regrow her feathers during her confinement.

I had to coax and poke and weather firm chicken growling to get a peek at a chick.  Oh!  There´s a little head.

There´s one!

They are as big and as lively as a week-old Silkie chick (these are Ameracaunas- they´re going to grow up to have cheeks!)

Time to break out the chickery:)

Also this evening I unexpectedly took receipt of four gorgeous Brahma hens.  They are large, and serene, and sweet!  So lovely.  They were taken directly to bed, and we´ll get to see them tomorrow:)

 

 

First boxed hen

I´ve put the first broody hen of the year to box.  She´s been determined to brood for a couple weeks, daily protesting the removal of her clutch.  I´ve relented, and put her on three pretty blue eggs (Ameracaunas).  I hope she can do it;  she´ll be the first of my Silkies to sit on a clutch of alien eggs.  If it works, it will be an ugly duckling situation.  My last attempt at egg swapping was rejected – they rolled the big eggs out and down the ramp.

She´s not a very good-looking hen; in fact, she´s an unusually ugly little lady, but she´s feisty and single-minded, keeps her eggs tidy (not allowing them to spill out),  and has been steadfastly resisting my attempts to break her up, so she might turn out be a great mother.

Coop Infiltration

I go to collect eggs, and what the? I find a Silkie egg in the coop:

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There’s a Silkie laying eggs in the big hens’ coop.  Not only that, she’s laying them in the nest box where the others do. This must be the place for eggs.

This is amazing to me that one of the hens got it into her head to walk up the ramp of a coop she’s never been in, in the dark, where the residents are twice her size, and decide that’s the right place to lay an egg.

 

 

Dispatches from Silkieland

from Oct 17

Look at those feet!

Look at those little wings!img_4515 img_4514

Look at mama looking back.  What’s taking so long?

img_4506This mama has ideas.  At night I put them all in the box for the night.  In the morning she lets herself out to graze.  The chicks know where she is, but all frustrated.

Seven chicks survive.  She hatched an amazing, record setting nine, but two didn’t make it.  It’s almost normal for one chick to die every setting.

Chick death by hanging from the mother’s underfluff is a very real risk, as bizarre as I thought it was the first time.   I saved three chicks from this hatch from hanging.  I found two at once being dragged around by the neck.  What a fate.  Her underfeathers were glued together at the ends, poop no doubt, and chicks had their heads stuck in the loop, probably from burrowing under her.  I saved them, phew!, pulling the feathers apart, and feeling for other knots.     I suppose the solution would be combing their bellies shortly after hatching.  You first.

It’s a bit like 101 Dalmatians around here now.  Chicks everywhere.  In the greenhouse, in the chickeries – I’ve lost track of how many sets there were this summer.  Some hens went broody twice.  There are a lot of chicks scampering around.

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The last remaining greenhouse setter is good as gold in her broody box, but she loves breakfast.  She eats nearly her whole bowl of food every day, and she goes at it enthusiastically the moment it’s given (as opposed to other broodies, who eat a bowl of food every week or two, and pretend they don’t care about food when you put it in with them).

Outside, it’s cooling off.  The birds come tumbling down the ramp every morning, and then, ugggh!, halt on the ramp to hunch their shoulders and fluff out.  Sometimes they just go back inside. Not ready to greet this day. 

There are two ways to identify roosters.  1) Even very small, they start beefing with the other baby cocks.  They lower their heads and stick their necks out, then stand up really tall on their toes, beak to beak.  If that doesn’t settle it, there’s some chest bumping.   2) Baby cocks hero-worship the rooster.  I’m gonna be just like you someday!  They are first to arrive when he does his food clucks, and they tag along with him, everywhere.

img_4493 img_4492

I came home to Snowball out of the Silkie paddock, who knows how or why, and whaddya know, Wannabe Jr. is out there with him.  Note unflappable (harharhar) white hen looking on.

 

Chicken treats – cucumbers!

Few things incite as much excitement as giving cucumbers to the Silkies.

The rooster loses his mind chirping, and all the little furballs go scurrying around, grab and going with a cucumber round, crying if they can’t find one (especially the chicks – they know something excellent is happening and they’re missing out), trying to find someplace private to eat their cucumber if they have one….

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I have to distribute enough slices so that everyone has at least one.

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Then it gets real quiet.

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Until they start to get Cucumber is Greener on the Other Side ideas.

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They hollow out the centers first, sometimes leaving the outer rings until the next day.img_4407

Chickery II

From Oct 14

Well, the chickery is definitely occupied, by the mom of seven, but the chicks of the mom-of-three are coming up, and they must go outside.

I thought Well, I have this big box, I can turn the flaps out and set it on the grass…img_4454

Doesn’t look so big once the birds are in it.img_4456

She does not appear impressed with the real estate.

So I upgraded.  Two boxes.  img_4459

Much better.  They are next door to Chickery I.img_4460All’s well in there.

 

More Silkie chicks

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So cute, little blunt wings and variegated colouring

Another box has started peeping – the peeping in that end of the greenhouse is my first clue there’s been a hatching.  Mother hen is maintaining eye contact from the background. 20160720_122004

This summer, except for the only chick,  the hens have all hatched 5 or 6 chicks from 7 or 8 eggs, and if there’s an odd number, it’s to the advantage of white.  The white hen (only one, of two, has gone broody), is a terrible setter (three times failed) while the brown hens are all models of success, although none of them have ever done it before.  All the brown hens are last summer’s chicks – baby pictures.  But the whites seem to get their eggs in the right place, like cuckoos.20160720_122013

This is the strenuous objection pose.  They press their wings down into the floor as a barrier so hard their body tips up until they practically do a headstand.

I finally cracked the case

I finally cracked the seven eggs that did not hatch under the white hen when she was sitting on so many.

I think I was afraid of them.

Every single one had a partially developed chick in it.  Some more developed than others.  A shame, but she lost so many because of having too many eggs to keep them all warm to fruition.  For the ones that survived, it was the luck of the draw.  Or the rotation.

It was not as gross as I thought.  At least, there was no bad smell.  All the chick fetuses were in a durable membranous bag that slipped out of the shells when I cracked them.  In fact, they looked still sort of alive.  Sleeping, in stasis.

See the dead chick fetus pictures

Box upgrade for the Brown Brood

Still in small box, new big box at the ready.
Still in small box, new big box at the ready.

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She gets a big roomy box, too, for all that family.  They will stay in here together for a few days, and then the In’s and Out’s will begin again with her.  Now the white hen’s chicks have it all figured out- I can count on them to get in and out of the coop without assistance- I get a short reprieve before it begins again, this time with SIX chicks.

Moving mama.
Moving mama.

It’s nice they are all the same age, too, since she did it right.  I can barely tell the youngest chick, the late hatcher, but there is one a tiny bit smaller.

Two!
Two!
Four!
Four!
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You can see their tiny eggteeth.
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It amazes me that they are so tiny, a third or less the size of a “normal” chick, and yet, there are any number of songbirds that are no larger as adults. A hummingbird egg must be the size of my pinkie fingernail.
Six!  Look at those little wings!
Six! Look at those little wings!

I’ve given them a lovely first meal – quinoa with ground sun and flax seeds, finely grated (zested?) carrot and cucumber.  It was a big hit with the white hen’s chicks, also with chopped apple.  I couldn’t believe how much of it the four of them would consume in a day.  They are only tiny, but they’d polish off a cupful twice a day.  Quinoa is fast becoming the number one choice of bird food around here.

Settling in.
Settling in.

It seems to me that once hatched, the chicks spend at least 24 hours under mom, adjusting or something, before they come out and begin to eat or drink.  It’s not like they just can survive 72 hours on the energy supply from the egg, but that it’s natural for them to have a long transition from egg to outer world.  Even once they were all hatched, it seemed with both hens that it was two days before the chicks started to come spilling out and express interest in what’s beyond mom’s feathers.

Chicks!

Just when I was starting to worry- she’s been sitting on those eggs forever- HW comes in in the morning and says Have you looked under the brown hen lately?  Oh, you’re gonna be excited!

There's a little head in the wing.
There’s a little head in the wing.

FIVE chicks!  Five healthy, brown and mixed (spider markings) chicks.  OMG, so, so SO cute.  And an egg with a tiny hole in it.  I didn’t even know she had six eggs under her.

2015-08-02 07.56.17I peeked at that egg later in the morning and it had a slightly larger hole in it.  A whole day behind the others, though.  Will it hatch?

At coop-closing time, I wiggled my fingers under her to see if there was still an egg, or a shell to pull out.  The hen firmly pushes her wings against the floor, making a barrier (while growling, a most amusing sound).  You can only nudge in under her chest or butt.  All underneath her was tiny legs and little squirming bird bits.  She contains multitudes.  The egg was there, intact.  I pulled it out.

It’s not every day that an egg, in your hand, shouts at you.  It’s disconcerting.  CHEEP!  The bird inside was very much alive.  Although still all crammed in its box without hinges, key or lid, it let me know- it’s alive, and busy.  Put me back!  I swiftly tucked it back in to the mom furnace to finish hatching.

Wow.  A 100% turnout from the brown hen.  She’s smaller, but smarter.

One chick down.

The white chick expired.

In a bizarre and macabre turn, her body was stuck to her mother’s belly, and the white hen was dragging her tiny carcass around, legs stuck out straight.  So strange.  What happened?

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I had to chase her around, trying to dislodge the body stuck to her.

Eventually, it came loose.  But why?  How did it get stuck on?  There were no indications of what happened.  The white chick was the tiniest chick.

Chicken Mom / The In’s and Out’s.

Sure enough, the first night out, they did not go back into the coop.  Dusk fell, and the rooster finally retired, leaving the hen downstairs, under the coop, settled into her chick-warming shape.  She’d been doing this most of the day, as the chicks could only handle a few minutes scurrying around before running under mom for a warming.

The Silkies have been fortress-ized with hardware cloth for the weasel and bird netting for predator birds.
The Silkies have been fortress-ized with hardware cloth for the weasel and bird netting for predator birds. The whole thing is portable, in two parts.  As HW says, it’s more like a chicken mobile home than a chicken tractor.  “In theory, you can move it, but it’s no fun”. 

Ok, I thought, when I realized she was committed for the night, I’m gonna have to crawl in there.  Since the Silkie fortress is much more robust, it’s also a lot harder for me to access.  I have to climb over at the end by the pine tree, and crabwalk under the bird netting.

I incorporated their favorite pine tree, and anthill, into the fortress
I incorporated their favorite pine tree, and anthill, into the fortress.  The Silkies are so low impact and perfectly happy with a small area, this is very spacious for them.

I take the hen and put her up on the ramp.  She comes flying back down, wings out, on the attack, mad! I scoop up chicks and pass them into the coop as quickly as I can, getting pecked and pinched.  The cheeping is desperate from over my head, and the the rooster is making his excited sounds.  Then I have to grab mom and toss her up on the ramp, and her squawking instantly changes to clucking when she sees her young (How’d they get up here?) and she strolls up into the coop and settles down.  I crabwalk out of the chicken run, hoping this doesn’t go on for weeks like last year.

Evening two:
Almost an exact repeat.  This time I go for the chicks first and deposit them at the top of the ramp.  Then the hen hops up on the ramp and goes up herself.

Evening three:
Yep, same.  Hen settled in under the henhouse, most responsibly keeping her chicks warm.  The chicks are getting faster, but the process of putting them upstairs is smooth now.

Evening four:
That’s what I was afraid of!  The hen’s in the coop, tucked in most comfortably, and all the chicks are huddled under the henhouse, crouching pathetically against the food dish.  I guess three days grace was all they get before…what? They get left to their own devices?  I crawl in and start grabbing the chicks.  Uhoh!  At the sounds of distress, mom comes rocketing down the ramp, on a rampage!  Flying attack beak!  She’s battling me so fiercely, I have to protect the chicks I’m trying to grab with one hand from stabbing beak with the other hand.  I should mention that being attacked by a two-pound hen, even giving all she’s got, is not all that threatening, even while crouched awkwardly in the small space under the coop.  I got, like, one little scratch.

However, when I put the chicks up at the top of the ramp tonight, because they are cold, and mom is at the bottom of the ramp waging war, they come skittering back down, to her, crying.  I may as well be putting marbles on top of the ramp.  Mayhem.

Now here comes the rooster, roused from bed. Finally I toss the chicks into the straw in the coop behind him and their way is mostly blocked by the rooster, and as soon as I get them all up there at once, the hen runs right back up, purring.  Sigh.

Evening five: Exact repeat of evening four.

Evening six:  What’s this?  They are all, magically, in the coop together!  They figured it out!

2015-07-31 19.10.04 2015-07-31 19.10.24So much for the In’s.

But can they get out in the morning?

Morning one:  No, they can’t.  I see the hen patiently going up and down on the ramp, talking to them (she’s such a good mom), but they don’t all figure it out.  Surprisingly, the diminutive white chick makes it down and the brown chicks are left upstairs, confused.  I nudge them down on the ramp and they run down, relieved.

Morning two:  This time one brown chick is left behind.

Morning three:   Interesting.  The white chick is upstairs.  Didn’t she already pass this test?

Morning four:  Yay!  They’re all out!

Morning five:  Not so fast.  Two brown chicks left behind again, confused.  Weird.  They’ve all managed it at least once.

There’s no physical challenge negotiating the ramp.  They seem to have a problem with the visual barrier.  Once the hen goes down the ramp, they can’t see her, and so she must have disappeared.  They can hear her, because she’s right underneath them, but since they can’t see her, they don’t move. If I put them onto the top of the ramp, they don’t drift down the ramp, they just hop back into the straw, unless they catch a glimpse of her.  Then they scamper down like lightning for a warming.   You’re alive! Maybe their little chicken brains just need to develop past the peekaboo stage, where one understands that just because you cannot see it, it does not cease to exist.

Now the brown hen has been placed in her broody box.  The brown hen is a little duchess compared to a cranky fishwife.  The white hen is fierce- irritable, feisty and spitting.  The brown hen is prim and quiet, hunching firmly over her eggs and protesting, but politely, when you touch her.

First day out for the chicks!

Unfortunately, I lost my phone in the woods, so I lost all the pictures of the first day of freedom for the chicks, a lovely sunny day.

2015-07-30 16.03.09By the time these were taken, the chicks were several days older and taller.

I split the (dirty, beat up) broody box open so that the hen could lead the way out, and make her way down the ramp on her own time.  She completely ignored the opening, although the chicks were interested, and quickly began scampering around the rest of the coop.  They move like water bugs.

Ten, twenty minutes later, they’re all still in the box.  I’m hoping to capture wondrous, triumphant first excursion from the coop, first time ever for the chicks, first sunlight in a month for the hen.

An hour later, she’s still in the box.

Two hours.

In the afternoon, HW comments offhand that he sees the chickens are outside.  What chickens?

All the chicks, and mom, are outside, and I missed it all!

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Phew, I get to throw out the dirty broody box they’ve all lived in for a week.

Now, how bad will the daily bedtime return-to-the-coop drama be this year?

First broody hen

The white Silkie hen went broody today.  That was fast, 24 days after the first egg.

This is great.  She must be feeling good and healthy and content, and it’s a much more appropriate time of year to go broody than last year.

IMGP0396She was way too ambitious, though, sitting on a pile of eggs she couldn’t even cover, like nine of them.  They were spilling out all over, I took half of them away from her.

I know she was broody because touching her provokes, along with a bunch of bird growling, this tail up, face in the straw pose.

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A position she holds after you stop touching her.IMGP0398Not broody, she’d pop right up and run outside.  Today, nothing was moving her.  I cleaned the coop around her and even packed new straw all around her.

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Aquapoultry, or, the washing of chicken feet.

Yes, I have taken to washing the feet of my chickens.  Not because I have too little to occupy my time, nor because I’m one of those clean freaks.

IMGP0332My Silkie flock has come down with a case of scaly leg mites this winter.  Scaly leg mites are pretty super gross.  Silkies are especially prone to them.  My old rooster has it the worst, the young rooster the least, and the hens just bad enough for me to feel bad for them.

And so, the Rx is washing the feet.  In tick and mite shampoo for dogs.  Soften the skin adhesions on their legs in warm water and scrub them with a toothbrush, and then, cover their feet and legs with Vaseline, which asphyxiates the mites.  Also, clean the coop and dust everything with a little diatomaceous earth.

IMGP0321In the winter, we were waiting for nighttime, then going out together, putting a toque over their heads and quickly washing their feet while they were hooded, then returning them to the coop to grumble about the alien abduction they just experienced while snagging and bagging the next bird.

In the summer, this is not practical.  My birds routinely stay up longer than I want to, so if I was going to wash chicken feet at all, it had to be in the daytime.

Turns out it’s not so hard.

The capturing of the birds is the hardest part.  They hate being captured, but once they are, they perch quite nicely in my hand.

The actual washing of the feet is pretty hilarious.  Holding the bird in one hand with their legs between two fingers, I dip the feet in the warm water.  If the water is too hot, they make a fist and retract it, but usually they obviously relax, standing in the water but sitting in my hand, and looking interestedly around.

IMGP0331What ladies don’t love having a nice foot bath?

IMGP0317The rooster gets a little too relaxed and tips forward like a narcoleptic, so I just tip him off my hand onto his chest with his legs hanging in the water.

IMGP0327A little less convenient for scrubbing his feet, but it more than makes up for inconvenience with hilarity.

IMGP0324IMGP0325I usually soak and scrub, wait, soak, rub their legs with my thumbs, scrub some more.  Soaking is more important.  Scrub too hard and it can hurt them, and they can bleed.  They will let you know when it gets to be too much, making a little fist.  I’ve had it!IMGP0322

Next comes the vaselining.  It gets all over their foot feathers and seems like it would pick up all kinds of crap, literally, but it doesn’t really, and the next day there’s a big difference.  The crusties are softened and wash off more easily.

Several days in a row is a good program, and then do it again after a week, and then again.

 

Nearly hatch time (?)

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It’s getting exciting!  The red hen is almost due.  We did a night mission to candle her eggs, as per the chicken bible. We were later than the midpoint he describes, but what we found: two eggs that look exactly like a normal egg (were they unfertilized?).   An egg with a black dot in it (this must be an egg that kindled then died in very early stages).  An egg opaque with darkness but with an angle in it like a water level (a mystery).  The rest – opaque.  The book says there should be a network of red veins through the egg, and there are dire warnings about dark eggs, that they are rotten and will smell horrendous.  But…what if at this stage, the dark eggs are the ones with chicks in them?  Because we were working fast to pull some out at a time and stuff them back under her before they cooled, we made no decisions, although I think we should have removed the eggs that look unfertilized.  The results were so confusing I just left her all the eggs.  Then I was lamenting that they have probably all failed, so H.W. got to gleefully tell me not to count my chickens before they hatch.

In the interests of continuing to let the white hen do her own thing without interference, we did not look at her eggs.  My money is on her doing better, sans meddling.  All we’ve done for her is lift her and put some layers of cardboard beneath her for insulation.  The nights are cooling off.  The days are blissfully bug-free and perfect for working, but you can feel the approach of winter.  It’s late in the year for chicks, but I won’t argue.  If they hatch, we’ll do our best to assist them in staying warm.

I feel like I put too many eggs under the red hen.  The book said you can put 6 normal size eggs under a banty mama, so I thought 6 bantam eggs would be conservative.  However, a couple of times I’ve seen an egg leaking out from under her, like she’s having trouble staying on them all.

Also, the book says the broody hen, although her appetite is greatly reduced, will get off her eggs periodically to eat, poop and bathe.  Not so the red hen.  She seems so determined to never lift off her eggs she moved them (twice) to where she could sit and reach her food and water dishes at the same time.  Maybe because she “knows” she has too many to keep warm properly?  And she eats, copiously!  Every day she empties her little dish.  This means corresponding pooping, and she won’t get off the eggs for that either, so there’s a wall of poop behind her against the side of the box.  So much for conventions. The moment chicks emerge, if they do, we have to snatch them all out of there for a clean box!

The rooster is just bored out of his mind and won’t shut up.

The white hen got us worried a few days before her due date by appearing outside the coop.  But she got back on her eggs after a dust bath.  I just can’t take another day without a shower!

Broody beginnings

Broody hen embroilments

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Robin the red hen setting, on the floor next to the nest so carefully prepared for her.

The little red hen was settled down on the coop floor again, clearly broody, so I got busy.  I made her a cardboard broody box that fits in a third of the Silkie coop, full of grass and supplied with food and water.  There’s a slightly elevated but shallow next box that I’ll put her and the eggs in.  There’s room for her to get off and eat.

Egg roulette
What eggs to put under her?  Hoping hard that I got a couple of eggs from the poor black hen, I chose six eggs to put under her, including two of the original three she was setting on, which I assume are her own, also which are possibly non-viable, if she was on them long enough to quicken.  All are labelled with their possibilities.  The likelihood is practically an algorithm, but there’s a chance of 1-3 from the black hen, 2-4 from the red hen, and 2-5 from the white hen.  Overall there’s a good possibility of 4 chicks.  If she hatches one chick, I’ll be thrilled.

In the night I set her onto her clutch.  Exciting! When I lifted her up I felt another egg under my fingertips in her belly feathers; I moved it with her.  I’m not entirely sure now how many eggs are under her.   In the morning she hadn’t budged.  She’s deep in broody chicken trance, motionless and flattened out wide over her eggs.  Yay!  The end of August is late in the year but I think still ok.  I wanted these Silkies for their broodiness, and now, they deliver!

Oh no!  In the afternoon I looked and she was settled down on the floor of her box in front of her food.  No!  I’ve read they can have a hard time finding the right nest to get back into- hence the isolation of the broody box.   Not only that, but she’d brought some of the eggs over with her, leaving three behind.  The three left were still warm, so I just lifted her with the eggs she was holding and put her back on the others through some mild protestation.  Her belly was hot!  It seemed bare, too, like her feathers were pulled out or else spread out, so her skin was directly on her eggs.  Now I worry.  Does she know better than I do what eggs she should be setting on, what eggs are viable?  Should I not be adjusting her?

After two days on all the eggs I come back to look at her in the afternoon and she’s back on the floor of her broody box, and this time she’s brought all but one egg with her.  (H.W. is again heartily wishing for a chicken cam.  “They have no hands!?”).  Hmm, she doesn’t seem very good at this.  Fine, she wants to stay there.  I check the egg she left behind and it’s cool.  Sadly, it’s marked as possibly one of the black hens.  I don’t remove it then for some reason, thinking I’ll wait until the evening to further disturb her- I have to feed and water her in the night anyways.  At night I go to minister to her and she’s collected that last egg out of the nest and put it under her!!  Good possibility now that three eggs have been killed by cooling, but she’s in charge, and I’m trying not to meddle.
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The white hen has simultaneously gone broody, bedding down in the floor of the main coop where the red hen did at first.  Her I’m going to leave completely to her own devices.  I don’t know how many eggs she’s on, but they must all be her own.  There’s only the two hens now so they don’t need another separate compartment.  I caught the cock sitting in a nesting box, presumably watching over his broody hens, solving the mystery of who’s been leaving feathers in the nesting boxes.  The hens don’t use them, always laying on the coop floor.

The rooster has been crowing a great deal more, and even going on adventures.  H.W. thinks because he’s awfully bored now.  There’s nothing for him to do with two hens setting.  He even ventured around the field, got in a fight with the big rooster, lost and retreated, got lost, hid under the house, and H.W. had to fish him out and catch him to return him to his domain, knowing I wouldn’t take it well if I came home and another Silkie was lost due to negligence.  He figured Snowball had nothing to take care of on the home front so he came across the field to “regulate” over there.

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Silkie rampage

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Our beta Silkie rooster has started to exhibit some bad behaviour.  Besides interfering with mating, understandable, I’ve recently seen him a few times pecking on the hens!  Not ok!  I understand he’s frustrated, but bad behaviour is a one way ticket to either the soup pot or Kijiji. He was also making a stab at crowing.  It was an awful, pathetic, gargling (cocks figuring out how to crow are hilarious), but the prospect of three yelling roosters was sobering, and H.W. was threatening to “give him to nice farm”.  I’m sure he’d make a good, happy alpha rooster if he got to have flock of his own, beta cocks usually do, so I put him up on Kijiji to give away.  Since we are now down two hens it’s kind of urgent; the little white hen shouldn’t have to put up with two roosters each three times her size.

Someone made an appointment to come get him, but that very afternoon we were out by the Silkie coop:  H.W. was just commenting that he hadn’t seen the beta rooster do anything bad when I caught him in the act.  He got a beakful of the little white hen and she started squealing and struggling.  I threw my hat at him, cursing, and he released her and ran away.  I chased him a few steps, and then H.W. said “here comes the other rooster!”. From behind me the alpha rooster streaked past, taking up the cause, running and pecking and squawking.

It was awe-inspiring.  We watched the two of them running off into the woods, hollering and shrieking, as far as we could see, while H.W. narrated. “Yeah!  What she said!  Dirtbag!”  And then “They’re deep out there, I’m not sure you’re going to have a rooster to give away tonight.”  Our Silkies aren’t known for venturing far from the coop, and are for getting lost when they do, so I figured I’d have to go after them.  I circled out into the woods to get behind them.  The alpha rooster was already back with his hen, her honour defended, but the beta was, predictably, wandering, and I chased him back towards the coop.  Who did I unexpectedly run into out in the woods though?  Fearless Friendly!  She sure gets around.

The beta rooster got given away that night to a new flockster with a few (full-size) laying hens.  H.W. skeptically predicted “they’re gonna laugh at him!”  I’m told they are doing just fine.  It’s either the shock of his life or all his dreams come true.  Or both.