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.
The funniest thing about the arrival of the Brahmas is the reaction of the Silkie roosters – the two “exiles” as I call them, since they don´t interact with the main tribe and mostly hide in the coop. Or did, until the Brahmas came.
I think they feel they´ve gone to heaven since the Brahmas arrived. The second night they were sandwiched between the big pillowy ladies. I haven´t been this comfortable since I was a chick.
And ever since they´re really coming out of their shell. No more hiding in the coop. They hang all day in the shrub with the Brahmas, who really just lie around.
The big sign of transformation is that they are starting to crow! It´s not pretty (whoa, is there a rooster gargling over there?). That means they are feeling very good about themselves. Looks like some new copper tail feathers are coming in too. I’m glad they’re so happy.
They don’t mate the big girls (larger than they are). They seem perfectly content to snuggle.
Good looking guys.
I call them the walnut tree tribe – the mixed bunch of chickens who have decided they live in the small coop under the walnut. They are a distinct group now. Mom and the Oreos, the two roos, and the Brahmas. They interact surprisingly little with the Silkies who moved into the big coop, who live just at the other end of the greenhouse. The guineas and layer hens freely visit either tribe, and a couple of layers drop off eggs in the small coop.
The Oreos are practically grownup now, or at least think they are.
First, they graduated to the chickery, as all chicks do at about three days old. That means a nightly grab and go from the chickery to a box in the greenhouse for the night.
So cute, with their little wing feathers coming in. One is turning grey quite rapidly.
Chicken selfie – Mom under one arm with a handful of chicks.
Look at those beautiful little wings!
Into the box.
I throw a lid over them for the night and first thing in the morning, it´s an aerial transport back outside to the chickery.
Then the rains came.
I figured that the stuff growing in the greenhouse was big enough to not be threatened by one tiny hen and two chicks, so instead of bringing the chickery into the greenhouse, I just turned the three of them loose inside.
Oh, what good times.
I had a good time working in the greenhouse with my feathered company. Non stop clucking and peeping. The chicks just tweet tweet constantly.
Mom was quite fond of settling down on the edge of the wall like this, and I knew how the water level had been known to come up and pool in the greenhouse in heavy rains like this.
In the dark I went out with a light, planning to set them on high ground or in a box. I found mom and chicks not tucked against the wall, but on the very top of a mountain of straw, her personal Ararat. She´s no dummy.
The chicks got three whole days in the greenhouse, rummaging around in the straw, tugging on tomato plants, and scampering along the wooden baseboards.
And then, suddenly, they integrated themselves into the greater chicken society.
Luckily, I was outside with them when it happened. As usual, I glanced over, checking for both chicks, and there was only one chick! Mom was pacing against the wall of the greenhouse, starting to get distressed. Where´s the other chick!!?
(Music of doom):
The chipmunk hole!
I went outside. There was the chick, walking up and down the path on the wrong side of the greenhouse wall!
I tried to catch it.
The chick quite smartly scurried into the shrubbery. Well then, it´s time to be outside, I guess.
Then I tried to catch Mom. Phew! That failed miserably, so I caught the other chick instead and introduced it to the shrubbery where it scurried off to join its sibling.
Mom I had to chase and coax until she hopped out the door on her own, where the lovesick roosters were waiting for her, and she ran off into the wrong set of shrubs. I did some more chasing, until she went into the same clump the chicks were last seen in.
Good. I peered into the bushes looking for the happy family. I could see her, but not the chicks! I eventually found them – they were perched up off the ground on bent branches, already pretending to be real birds.
At night I opened the door of the greenhouse and Mom came around and hopped back in. This is where we spend the night. The third night I came to let her into the greenhouse and…. just one chick hanging around underneath the coop.
A: Wow! That´s got to be a first, a hen deciding to go to bed in a different place than the night before! Not only that, a coop she hasn´t slept in for months, in a new location.
B: Here we go again with the nightly chicks left outside drill – but I was wrong! As soon as I came around the loose chick started distress peeping, and mom popped outside immediately, bristling. What´s going on out here!? The second chick popped out behind her. I hid behind a bush to watch. Both chicks gathered up again, she coached them up the ramp together (!!!!). WOW!
Never before! First night! On her own initiative! She deserves a good chicken mom medal!
And I was worried she was a little inbred, with her head puff not as puffy as the others. They´re actually getting smarter!
Now the Oreos are right independent. Mom opted to sleep in the small coop with the Brahma hens. She takes the nest box at night with the chicks.
(There´s jean jacket hen) – when it rains I have to make a few rain tents for everyone.
Mom and the Oreos are rather wild these days. Hard to catch on camera. I get distance sightings.
So far so good.
They´re often off on their own, in the pasture, roaming rather farther than the other hens tend to.
Once I found the Oreos inside the pig zone, Mom running up and down on the outside of the electric fence. The chicks had just slipped through it.
She wasn´t alone! One of the guinea cocks was pacing back and forth right next to her, for all the world also worried about the chicks (!?!). I was aghast, of course, at the situation, but the chicks popped right back through the fence when I came on the scene, and the guinea quickly resumed ignoring them all. Different species.
Next time Mom was on the inside, chicks outside, I don´t know how she did that, and as I approached, so did the pigs. Terrified, she plunged through the fence, tangling her leg in it and shrieking. The pigs came up – I was totally worried that they would harm her, but they only nosed her, curious grunting, as I untangled her to run off again.
The Oreos are already getting up on their own in the morning, coming out before Mom, and running off from her. They stick to each other like glue, though.
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.
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.
I go to collect eggs, and what the? I find a Silkie egg in the coop:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
I have to distribute enough slices so that everyone has at least one.
Then it gets real quiet.
Until they start to get Cucumber is Greener on the Other Side ideas.
They hollow out the centers first, sometimes leaving the outer rings until the next day.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
So 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.
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.
By 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.
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!
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?
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.
My 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.
In 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.
What ladies don’t love having a nice foot bath?
The 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.
A little less convenient for scrubbing his feet, but it more than makes up for inconvenience with hilarity.
I 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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Clearly a cooler atmosphere is what the hairy little Silkies were missing in life. They now have shade or dappled sunlight most of the day, and they are obviously very happy. It’s nice and cool where they are, right into the hot afternoon. They get much more privacy now too, farther from our work zones (nearer camper). It’s fun to go check on them, see what they’re up to at various times, just doing their chicken thing. They don’t work very hard. Graze a little, writhe a little in the dust. High-stepping adventuring around, just a few feet from the coop. Lots of dozy low nestling in various places, making for a Where’s Waldo chicken hunt in the grass, for little tufty heads. They have nearly zero impact on their surroundings, being so small. They hardly eat any feed when they eat veg all day. Low cost. Very low maintenance. And low compensation. So they better be low cost, the little freeloaders.
We moved the little chickens into the treeline. Now they are always the “little chickens”, because they are. We are still looking and hoping for big chickens.
They are still in the first, big coop, but we moved them to the edge of the field to give them more shade. It’s working. They are spending more of the day outside.
Immediately, they started ranging farther from the coop. It was funny for me to walk down the path towards them with some scraps and see the rooster striding purposefully up the path towards me, before he saw me and beat a retreat.
Now we are done with the garden so we don’t have their entertainment there.
They must be hot in their fluffy fur coats. And hats. And sweatpants.
I’d been holding out for getting some steel to put a roof on the mini coop because I really wanted to make the roof/access significantly lighter. No more heavy lifting. But then, Arthur came through, and the first coop endured the storm without a hint of difficulty or damage. Yay, sturdy and heavy – did not blow open or over. I decided that weight is great, and put the same lead roof on the mini: wood, flat asphalt, and shakes. Materials at hand win out again. The whole coop is a little lighter because smaller and the lid is easier to open because it’s hinged at the low side of the slope. Even though I slapped this one together more carelessly, it looks a bit nicer. It certainly went together much faster – building a second version usually does. I like the design- simple, secure, portable, does what it needs to. How we are going to swap the birds into this coop is what could get a bit interesting.
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.
Hatched a plan to make a smaller coop for the silkies. Coop I is cavernously too spacious for them and they don’t like the big drop from the perch to the floor, a scary 6”(!).
So I scaled everything down and reproduced the coop in a 3 x 4’ model, which will be plenty for a silkie flock of a dozen, should they ever get it together to reproduce. Eggs would be a good start.
Some small changes – I made the nest boxes on the high side instead of the low, over the ramp, which is the whole length of the box to create a very friendly low slope and also make it easier to latch. I hope smaller boxes with smaller openings that the rooster may not even fit in, higher than the perching area, will be cozier and more appealing to the tiny hens. The roof will hinge on the low side this time so access is over the boxes for that dreamed-of egg collection.
I added a chicken-spying window so we can peek in at them without lifting the lid.
I retrofit one on the original coop too.
H.W. loves it. “Hey in there! Whatcha doing? Roosting? That’s right, I see you!”
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.