Having a mud bath late afternoon at this time of year? It’s not that warm. They’re into it, though.And after a good restful mud flop, it’s time to go ruffle up one’s hay bed.And then get food stuck in your forehead hair. The Colonel got into the greenhouse today, laid down the law. I left the door ajar while I was cleaning coops, and then there was a kerfuffle inside, and then there was a bigger kerfuffle outside, as the Deputy seized the moment and tried to seize the Colonel’s hens while he was otherwise occupied.
Funny, I tried and tried to get the Colonel to go in the greenhouse a month ago and fertilize the GH hens, but he wasn’t having it then.
Back to coop training: Well, that looks exactly like yesterday. The Silkie chicks are all This is what we do, we huddle up in a pile on the floor, and the Chantis are cramming themselves in the broody box. I’m sure Mom loves that. She’s still got her mud dreads, I see.
Maybe it has something to do with these little scamps.
It’s also a mystery why they enjoy pepper leaves so much. They must be sweet. The hot pepper plants don’t get defoliated (the eggplant leaves are ragged too). Doesn’t bother me. They leave the peppers alone, and the plants will be out soon anyway.
There are 12 chicks in the GH, with two Silkie moms. They have they’re hands (beaks?) full.
They’re at this point where the Silkie chicks (coming into fluffy tails), are the same size as the Chanticleer babies, who are eventually going to be huge.
There´s a tribe of chicks in the greenhouse. One mom has 5 Chanticleer chicks, and the other has seven Silkies.
They never shut up! PeeppeeppeepPEEPpeeppeeppeepPEEPpeep. Wow. I don´t know how the Moms handle it, unless lots of it is inter-chick chatting that they can tune out.
Otherwise, it´s Mom, Mom, Mom! MOM, Hey Mom, Look at this Mom, Hey Mom can I eat this? What about this? What´s this Mom? Look what I found Mom, Look at me Mom, I flapped! See how fast I can run? Watch this, Mom!
All. Day. Long.
The Silkies are a week older than the Chantis, so they´re all the same size (so far). The Silkies are already entering their scruffball transition from fluff to feathers. There’s three white and four brown.
Most of these chicks I’ve never even touched. They´re going to be the wildest bunch yet. They were born in a box with an open door, and Mom’s been totally in charge from day 1. I don´t even see them every day.
But boy do I hear them.
They’re all so happy and safe in there, savaging the low-hanging tomatoes, rearranging my mulch, tasting stuff. It’s a rooster-free zone. One Silkie rooster is wont to stand looking in the screen door, fantasizing.
The pigs are rooting. I give them a nice new grassy area that looks like a green pig paradise for about an hour. They like to customize their environment, which means turning over every inch of sod. Very diligent workers. And fast.
What have we here? A pile of chicks trying to perch like grownups on the coop, next to mom.
But look closer. Who’s that IN the greenhouse? I don’t know how the F they got in there, maybe the gap above the screendoor?, but there were three little guineas on the door header on the wrong side. Frantic!
I get involved, scare them off the door, thinking they’ll come out the open door after they’re on the ground. Nyoooo! Mom is on the ground now too, so they run towards her and out of my sight behind the cucumbers.
Mom can see them running back and forth through the plastic and starts pecking at them. Naughty! Get out of there! Chicks: We can’t, we can’t!
The plastic is like the skin of a drum, and her pecking it is frightening the daylights out of the chicks. Boom! Boom! It’s frightening me too.
HW swings around outside to get Mom to cease and desist, I undo the wiggle wire on that corner, and after rattling the cucumber vines, the chicks come popping out the hole and it’s all over but the storytelling.
The wild Oreos and their fluffy stepmom no longer slip under the fence into Pigland but are content in the partially desertified former Pigland. They tower over mom now. One is coming into slate shingle colouring, and the other has developed coppery neck feathers.
The light is shortening, and it’s that glorious time of year when when the chickens feel like going to bed lines up with when I want to go to bed. Midsummer is awful. The chickens outlast me every day. I’ll be so tired I’m struggling to stay awake long enough to close them up, because they’re out there hopping around! Not a care in the world! SO not ready for bed. Today, I’m like, What? Are you guys seriously all in bed at 8:20!? I could weep with joy.
Inside the greenhouse Brown Bonnet is proudly bringing up 7 chicks.
These chicks have a different start because instead of chickery time, when they first emerged I lifted her box out of the fence because she was sharing, and trusted mama not to lose any chicks in the jungle.
Funny, the first three days, she barely went two feet from the box. Now she’s using half of the tomato aisle as the chicks increase in ability. Soon they will be anywhere, and I’ll think twice about slinging buckets of water.
At night they all go back in the box to sleep, which is adorable. They are going to be so wild, never getting the daily airlift touching.
It´s a HOT day. (30C, haha!) No one has much energy, including me. It´s hard to move quickly or remember things.
The hens are rolled on their sides with their wings spread like fans and legs stuck out at anatomically improbable angles.
The Colonel usually doesn´t let down his hair like this.
The pigs just sleep in their wallow when it’s this hot, and they get two deliveries of water poured over their backs. They are very happy with their last move – more buckthorn forest to laze around in.
I’ve got another broody hen, so now the eggery is a duplex.
The first broody – the most tolerant little girl who was keeping the orphan guinea warm for a few days (that little keet expired after all) – is due any day, if she was successful. Her attachment to a daily meal may have left her eggs cold for too long.
I haven’t really thought through the extra occupation of the the chickery, but I’ll probably release the first set of chicks into the greenhouse jungle when they come.
The new broody is the biggest of all the silkie hens; she’s easily covering 9 eggs.
The first broody has stuck to her daily break time throughout her term- a new quirk, and the box inside the chickery has worked perfectly. She comes out, eats, poops, and then creeps back into her box, talking to her eggs the whole time, which is adorable. I’m coming back…here I am.
Now they are scampering around outside with the big flock wearing proper wings and tails and surely thinking they are all grown up, but when they were merely days old…
I was working in the greenhouse, the Chickery was in there with me because the chicks were brand new (they have a few chickery days in the greenhouse before going outside), and the Blondies and their mom were rummaging around in it, as they do.
I noticed she seemed to be digging with unusually single-minded determination in one corner.
I looked in on them once and she had dug a hole. I thought, any minute, a chick is going to be able to slip out of there.
Before I turned away, one did.
When she would pause her digging efforts, a chick would dive in to see if there was anything interesting in the hole, and retreat when dirt started flying again.
Once all the chicks were popping in and out like electrons, I decided it was time for them to go outside.
I popped a box over top of Mom (highly offended noises), lifted the chickery off and wrestled it outside while the chicks cheeped in the corner.
Then I grabbed the chicks and introduced them to grass. Then I went back to the grumbling, rattling box, and returned mom to the chicks.
I think, maybe once, this mom and the Blondies got put to bed in the box. As soon as I put the chickery outside, it started raining, so I turned them loose in the greenhouse, which they love, for the rain days.
But here they are, as dusk falls, all in the box. This is where we sleep.
I wish I could have seen how that went down. OK, kids, time to get in the box! That´s quite a jump.
And then, in the morning, they´re all out of the box and back to work!
To the tomato forest!
They love the tomato forest. So much mulch to kick around.
I turfed them all out into the big world, though, because it was too hot in the greenhouse. Even though they were all hiding under a squash leaf.
They got readmitted late afternoon, and tonight, they´re all back in the box!
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.
No one expresses the joy of summer quite like the Silkies. They sunbathe hard.
A bunch of white snowballs wriggling in the dirt or spread out flat like they´ve deflated.
Or for variety, going for a hike.
Sometimes the red hens get right in there too for a bath.
What I wonder is, songbirds take exuberant baths in puddles all the time. Chickens are birds. Why don´t they like the water?
The biggest Silkie news is that the oil of oregano treatment is totally the cure for Scaly Leg Mite! So exciting! I´ve got a few drops of oil of oregano in a bottle, and I shake that vigorously, and pour some of the mix in their water dish, not even every day, just enough to get a bit of a rainbow on their water. Their legs and feet are obviously so much better, although I haven´t been doing Vaseline treatments. Just the oil of oregano, or OOO, as I call it. I´ve got plenty around for human health; now recommended for chicken feet health. The layer hens have entirely cleared up – their feet look so good now, and I´m sure the Brahmas will respond too.
Another hen is boxed, with more pretty blue eggs. Broody 2, 2017. I have a special variety of hairless chicken that seems to go broody first. I don´t know if broodiness goes with molting or not – do they need the long break of setting to reset themselves and regrow after a molt?
Hens are usually pleased to go in the box, and get their private trough. This one is just attacking the food. I of course provide a buffet during their confinement; in the wild they would be able to pop out for a snack when they got peckish but not so in the box.
There is an important rule though: Thou shalt know the difference between sloth and broodiness.
They might be doing this:
They might be in there all day. They might slam their wings down and growl if you try to take eggs, but they may not be broody. They might be laying an egg, or just thinking about it.
I was impatient to set someone on eggs and boxed one I thought was broody – she was NOT. She was pleased at first with the snack, but upon finding herself trapped, she loudly registered her outrage, drawing the Colonel to pace at the screen door, and effected a dramatic eruption out of the box, after kicking all the eggs around. A broody will be thrilled to have eggs, and keep them in a tidy group.
So I´m waiting for one to turn. They´re just having too much fun outdoors right now to think about motherhood.
This is from a month ago, May 1, but I was so demoralized by how the day ended that I didn’t finish posting. Until now.
The chickens no longer live in the greenhouse, and it’s time for the green things to go in. I got in there with the broadfork, breaking up the rows. Tomatoes first, against the north wall.
After having all the birds wintering in the “chicken dome”, the soil looks, well, awful. It looks compacted and desiccated. It would have fooled me. But that´s not the case.
The top quarter inch or so is dry, and compacted. When I crack it with the broadfork, that top crust breaks up in scales, and right underneath, the ground is wet as anything, no harder than anywhere outside where chickens haven´t been trampling, and so very full of worms.
Really big worms.
So the hens got very excited. They were following right on my fork, poking their heads down into the holes to fish out worms, and vigorously scratching up the flakes of crust. They were feasting.
Until I decided they were being a little too hard on the worms, who didn´t have a fair chance, and I evicted the chickens.
I hung up a sheet of row cover (if there´s anything else around I use for so many things it wasn´t intended for, I don´t know) the length of the greenhouse to wall off the side I was working on from the side I wasn´t going to get to today. The birds can play on that side.
I let one chicken stay with me – my favorite low chicken.
She can use some extra worms. She was actually perturbed at being alone with the others on the other side of the cloth (they could see each other through it), but she was consoled by the worms.
You see, it was a rainy day. A drizzly morning, forecasted to be a thundering downpour day, so I didn´t have the heart to shut my birds out of the greenhouse to crowd, disgruntled and soggy, under their coops.
As it got wetter, the birds steadily found their way into the vast shelter of the greenhouse.
Inside, I kept working, attended by low chicken, while the rain drummed on the plastic and the birds all trickled in, chirruping and shaking off, pleased to be let back into the greenhouse.
It was really very cool to spend all day with my birds. It´s nice to listen to them chat, complain, brag; I could peek over and see what they´re up to.
They´re always doing something funny: piling up on the hay sacks, trying to have a bath in the roots of the fig tree (naughty!)
Planting the tomatoes out is a big day.
From past experience, I just break up the ground a bit with the broadfork, and plant directly into the ground as is. No turning! After I drew the rows with the broadfork, it was time to plug tomatoes.
Here´s where I found out how well my newspaper pots made out: the answer- excellently.
I tore off the top ring where I had written in Sharpie the kind of tomato, and left that by or around the plant as a marker. Then I tore off the rest of the paper and was left holding a tall root ball.
On the other side of the wall, the chickens had the time of their life shredding all that scrap newspaper that I´d put in a box, and littering it all over the room, the scamps.
Chickens, I´ve observed, spend a lot of time lounging. Most of the afternoon is devoted to sunbathing, dirt bathing, combing their feathers, or napping. On this rain day, they were piled up, murmuring, dropping their heads for a nap or settling right down into sleep pancakes. Others would be active, picking at something – they never all fall asleep at once, but it seems like someone´s always contentedly napping in the afternoon.
At the end of the day, tired, with 70 tomatoes and a few pepper plants planted, I turned in. It was still pouring rain and the chickens were awake, so I just them in the greenhouse. There´d been no attempts on the wall, or breaches, so I was confident.
I was working on this post, before going out to close them up. There had also been a surge in squawking I was wondering about. …
The wall was breached- one end down, and every single tomato plant was defoliated- not a leaf left! Just a roomful of puny green stems. A couple of hens not gone to bed yet, finishing off the devastation. Next time you can get wet, you ingrates!
Before I went to bed I planted some more tomato seeds, but to say it was a major loss is a major understatement. I had some spare plants, but not an entire spare crop. I was NOT HAPPY. Completely defeated, more like.
As it turned out, despite the significant trauma of being beheaded, the same day as transplanted, almost all the tomatoes survived. Only five were broken off by the hens and therefore terminated.
It was a definite setback, but in the next couple weeks they regrew some awkward leaves, and then left that early bad memory behind. Now you wouldn´t know it had ever happened, although they might be a week or two behind where they might have been.
It was supposed to be a nice day, so Mom and the Oreos (Thanks for naming them, Mom) got to move outside! I transplanted the chickery from the arid hard packed environment of the greenhouse, where they spent a couple days, to the outdoors it was designed for.
Mom was so excited about grass – I can believe it- she was broody for so long she´d probably forgotten about grass – that when I lowered her into place she didn´t take a single step, just started gobbling grass where I set her.
Then the roosters came. The two remaining “exile” roosters, that stay apart from the main flock, and continue to sleep in the small coop, alone (I´m waiting for an opportunity to rehome them), lost no time discovering the new mama.
They made fools of themselves staring longingly through the mesh and giving some dancing performances.
I don´t get it myself, but she´s always been very popular.
They were resoundingly ignored by the object of their attention, but hovered around devotedly all day.
Will it rain or won´t it? Foggy, misty day – the chickery gets a rain cape.
When evening fell and mama settled down for the night, she and the Oreos got airlifted into a bucket to go in the warmer greenhouse for the night.
She was not impressed. I´ve never used a bucket before. The bucket is not very roomy, but it was handy (I got her a box tonight).
Gosh, it´s been too long – I´ve been so busy! It´s garden and greenhouse time – very busy. Everyone is well, the piglets are no longer -lets, just pigs, the bees are busy, the hens are entertaining and entertained. I have lots to share…but for now, a glimpse:
The bunnies are grazing in the field alongside the hens and robins. They are almost all brown- some have tufts of white fur that haven´t fallen out yet, making them distinguishable. There´s always a rabbit around with a frond of greenery hanging out of its mouth. Low-speed chases happen – I suspect they are mating chases.
Sometimes I accidentally count the bunnies in with the guinea fowl.
The guineas stick closer to home than I initially expected.
And traveling as a pack, which I love. They´re all friends.
They can really get into a good dust bath too.
The dust bath is the most popular activity of the season, now that there are warm sunny days to laze around in and wile away the hours sticking a leg out awkwardly…
This is the guinea spot in the woods, right by our path. I suspect she´s laying her eggs here. Can you see all three?
This is the hen who thinks she´s a Silkie, always hangin´ with the fluffballs.
The Silkie tribe is becoming adventuresome (safety in numbers?), and every day venture a little farther into the woods to skritch in the leaves, or come a few feet farther down the path to the house.
Led by their intrepid leader, the Colonel:
The bees are full team ahead hauling in pollen. (I meant “steam”, but that makes more sense)
Returning a soggy bee to the hive, incoming bees use my hand for a landing strip.
There´s been a full scale cooporate takeover. The Colonel has moved in, and brought his ladies with him.
There´s been a couple Silkie hens that decisively moved in with the big girls weeks ago, but HW noticed the Colonel exiting the layer coop in the morning, and told me he suspected a relocation.
I think, because of the rain the last few days, that the Silkies couldn´t be bothered to walk the 40 feet back to their own coop, and just went up the proximate ramp.
The flocks hang out surprisingly intimately all day, piled up in the same dirt bowls, eating together, laying eggs in each other´s coops, and when it rains, huddled shoulder to shoulder under the nearest coop with their shoulders hunched up (the guineas too). I LOVE this! I´m so happy they get along.
I´m over the moon that since the integration of the flocks this winter and their coexistence in the greenhouse, that I can retire the tiresome, rickety Silkie un-“tractor”, and all the birds are fully free again. What they do with their freedom is sometimes unexpected, and usually entertaining.
Sometimes a name alights on a being like a hawk landing on a fencepost. Here to stay. The rooster formerly known as Snowball (we do our best, until their real name arrives), is now irrevocably, unquestionably, the Colonel.
The Colonel is the Big Boss of All the Chickens around here, ruthlessly laying down the law and keeping Jacques in line (that´s the big Copper Maran rooster at the back of the coop), despite Jacques being about 5 times his size. This was very unexpected.
Any human visitors think it´s absolutely hilarious when I point out the big boss. They point; that guy? The pint sized pompom? That big rooster is scared of HIM? No way! Then they are usually treated to an exhibition – the Colonel marching authoritatively towards the giant, showy rooster who dared to come too close, and Jacques the Giant hastily looking for somewhere else to be.
Jacques gets no respect. The Colonel keeps him looking over his shoulder. HW calls him a punk. He´s still growing into his leadership role, I think. He´s pretty good with his hens, unselfish and a food announcer; they like him, but he can´t count, and doesn´t organize them very well; they scatter, and scattering is not good for chicken longevity. Also, he attacks me daily. I whack him with sticks and throw water on him; he has a short memory. The Colonel doesn´t hesitate to rescue me, which is nice, but feels like the wrong order of things.
The Colonel keeps track of eleven Silkie hens, and they typically flow in a big group without stragglers (It´s awesome to observe chickens in as free a state as possible- they have a culture, and it evolves; they are in charge, and I serve them, with shelter, food, and evening security lockup). The Colonel has one young protege, a blond rooster that rolls with the big flock, but there are four more roosters that are exiles and just huddle at a distance. These poor roosters are due for rehoming – they´re on Kijiji. They´re quite gorgeous, and they´ll make great rooster-leaders if they get a chance.
I have a long-running ad on Kijiji to divest of Silkie roosters, rather than axe them, and sometimes I sell hens and eggs. Keeping the flock manageable.
I think it´s simply hilarious to put them in EGGS boxes. No one else thinks it’s quite so funny. “It’s like the chicken and the eggs…which came first? The eggs are going to come out of the box, but not right away?… Oh never mind”. Also it´s like the Boxtrolls.
Anyway, two hens went for a long drive (they made hardly a peep), and got a major lifestyle upgrade. I got a text late in the day reporting that the hens had loved every minute of a shampoo and warm blowdry (I bet they did. I bet they’re simply gawgeous. ), and they also enjoy being held and petted. We’re not on the farm any more, Dorothy. They’re probably hoping I forget to pick them up from this spa weekend. It´s the bouff I´ve always dreamed of! I’ve always wanted a good blowout. I can´t even imagine how fluffy they got.
I did choose two of the shyest, most anxious and retiring chickens, because I had a feeling they were going somewhere to be pets, and they could appreciate the lifestyle upgrade. I didn’t know it was going to be a spa package upgrade.
Coming soon to a neighbourhood near you: purse chickens.
The mud season might be very short here in Nova Scotia this year. Or else we´re just being served an appetizer of summer in mid April. 20° C and sun sun sun. I got a mild sunburn on my second garden day. The ozone layer ain´t what it used to be.
The chipmunks are back! Where DO chipmunks spend the winter? The birdsong has changed. Sparrows are here rummaging under the feeder, and the birds that wintered over have moved on to the good wild food. Swallows have been seen – the rumours are flying, the first tick bite reports are coming in, and the peepers started up yesterday morning. That means bugs and buds are right behind.
The chickens are all being encouraged out of the greenhouse, although we haven´t lifted their coops out yet, and they are reveling. Making fools of themselves in a group bath.
Unexpectedly, the Silkies are still hanging out with the layers.
Or at least, hanging around nearby, like wannabes watching the cool kids.
As usual, the guineas are furtively skulking around in the bushes. They march around systematically cleaning up (hopefully, vacuuming up ticks). They look like rocks, with their heads down all the time.
The pigs are reveling too. They have dug themselves a nice hole and stretch out with extended hooves, basking in the sun and pig-snoring, but I haven´t been able to catch them at it on camera, they leap up as soon as they hear me, and they have good ears.
At the beginning of the winter when the chickens were first incarcerated in the greenhouse for the season, we prepared some bird baths.
Inspired by my neighbour, who brings warm (room temperature) sand from her house to the hen house (hot bath!), I put a bunch of mud on the woodstove to heat up.
I shoveled the mud out of a couple of popular summer-time hen bathing holes, where, when it wasn’t soaking wet, it was fine dust. The old style metal crisper trays were perfect for heating on the wood stove.
It took days to dehydrate the dirt. It cracked like the desert, made little popping volcano vents, and then we’d break it up and cook it some more. HW stirred it assiduously, raving about how much those lucky birds were going to enjoy these baths, and pronouncing it not yet ready, day after day.
Finally, the bird baths- heavy with warm, finely stirred, premium dirt- went out to the greenhouse. I was looking forward to seeing the birds enjoy them, too, probably in the lazy, sunny, afternoon. I expected to hear excited clucking, to find two hens and the oversized rooster jammed in one bin at once and overflowing the sides, legs sticking out in odd directions….
and I never saw them. Not one single solitary sighting of a chicken getting her dirt bath on.
They were definitely using it. They were using it with vigour. There was a dirt radius around each bin. Feathers in the dirt. Week by week, the level in each bin went down. Every time a chicken bathes, she covers herself thoroughly with dirt, then gets up, walks out, and shakes herself off like a dog, making a Pigpen puff of dust. This slowly erodes the dirt capital.
Months passed. Then last week, I caught a brown hen in the bath! I crept back from the door, went for my camera, and of course, she was finished her ablutions by the time I got back with it. One sighting in months – the odds were poor that I’d ever catch another.
But I did! I didn’t waste time going for my camera but used my damaged phone – a sighting!
I had a persistent little guest in the layer coop the other day. I was cleaning it out – bagging up the thick accumulated layer of hay and crap for relocation to the garden (my chicken mulch cycle), and along came Granny.
I lifted her out a couple of times, because she was definitely in the way, but she came right back in. She was determined to do something, but it wasn’t clear what. She just sort of dottered around, and I had to relocate her to work around her. I think she might be losing her vision.
Ahhhh. I stay here now.
Then, for more bizarre behavior, along came a Silkie rooster, who got all worked up scratching and wiggling down in the clean hay in a corner, gurgling and clucking for all the world like a hen that’s very pleased with finding an awesome place to lay an egg. He was just giddy with his burrowing. WTH? There’s hay all over to wriggle in. He was really excited about this corner, though.
My poultry podiatry methods have advanced. Still a hilarious procedure though.
Instead of a miticide foot bath, followed by Vaseline, I’ve found that the best approach is just to Vaseline the little feet, and preferably, do it again 2-3 days later. Even if they have it bad (it being the scaly leg mite that’s such a problem for Silkies in particular), the Vaseline softens up the scales and the unwanted stuff sloughs right off. I think it would be enough to treat them like this 3 or 4 times a year for a preventative.
Plus it’s way easier than organizing a tub of warm water. Just have a rag on hand to wipe your greasy hand on before touching their feathers again.
I don’t wait for night any more either. I used to put a toque over their heads to grab them out of the coop at night. I think partly they’re just used to the routine now and are resigned to it. I can do it any time of day. Everyone screams when they’re first grabbed, but then as soon as you start rubbing their feet, they quiet right down and hold still. They seem to thoroughly enjoy it. Who doesn’t love a foot rub?
My chickens’ feet are doing quite well now. With the feathered feet, Silkies almost always have scaly mite, and show it fast- the white “dust” on their black skin. Almost every flock of any kind of hens I’ve seen has scaly mite to some degree, but it’s less noticable on layer hens, until they get old.
I’ve gone through the Silkies twice this winter with Vaseline treatment, and my layers once, some of whom arrived with bad visible scaly mite troubles, and now everyone’s legs look very good, except the three oldest Silkies, whose legs are merely “not bad”. They arrived afflicted years ago, and I haven’t really hoped to eradicate it in my flocks, but to keep it well controlled.
I’ve heard that the true cure for Scaly mite is oregano! Put oregano in their feed, or oil of oregano in their water, and the mites jump right off their legs! Exciting to know a possible cure, but it will be a while before enough evidence is gathered.
She’s the last of the original three – her and the Grandpa – the big boss of the greenhouse. He’s not showing his age at all, but Granny is obvious.
She’s tiny, she moves slow, she’s not very white anymore, her head tips forward, no one bosses her, and her poof of hair feathers overhangs her eyes in a way that makes her look wizened.
She is the progenitor of half of all the Silkies in the greenhouse, but I think her hatching days are over. Every morning she eats with gusto but then toddles back to the coop, hops on the ramp, and goes back to bed. One of these days she won’t wake up in the morning.
I moved the haybale play structure from its former location in the south corner of the greenhouse…
…to the opposite side of the greenhouse.
I have about 9 bales left, that are very dry and falling apart, that I am cycling through the coops as bedding and then to the garden for mulch. While stored in the greenhouse, the bales are providing caves, entertainment, and vantage points for the bored birds. And carbon for the ground.
I dropped one unstrung bale into the middle of the room. There’s little they like more than to take apart a bale of hay. The normally uptight guineas, in a rare moment of repose, used it to cash out in the sunshine, and fell mercifully silent for a good hour.
The haybale move –my every move closely monitored by short attendants – served two purposes. The sitting haybales had kept a big patch of dirt wet and scratchable, so each bale I moved, the hens rushed in behind me to dig. It’s fun to work among the hens, them all up in my business, making interested noises, having their own dramas.
The new play structure was a novelty, therefore highly entertaining to explore.
You know when something is overwhelmingly interesting when ALL the birds fall silent. They’re that busy. Too absorbed to talk about it, to make announcements. Then little burbles of speculation.
All three of the resident breeds explored the new apparatus, hopping up and over it and sidestepping along the high poles, but – I didn’t anticipate this- the Silkies wholly claimed it as their own.
Three dead mice were unearthed, precipitating the inevitable lively mouse run.
After a thorough inspection and finding it pleasing, the Silkie tribe moved in en masse…
and settled in for some hard lounging.
I’m going to move the bales at least once more, and I expect similar excitement and results. In return they will thoroughly distribute a mulch layer in the greenhouse for me.
I can’t believe it but I’m SO happy. ALL MY BIRDS ARE GETTING ALONG! The one silver lining to the loss of my big rooster is that I don’t have to segregate my birds. Two winters I’ve attempted to divide the greenhouse into two territories, Silkieland and Layerland. I say attempted because there were always breaches no matter what I tried.
First there were the guineas, with the GH all to themselves.
Then there were the two Silkie moms and their nine chicks between them, who got to stay in the greenhouse mostly because of inclement weather.
Then I moved in the layer coop, the day after the rooster was killed. The Silkies had the yard outside for a week of lovely weather, from whence they could see inside through the screen door.
Next I opened the door dividing the flocks, and waited to see what would happen. A few red hens popped out, looked around, ate some grass, and went back in. Hey, the guineas came outside, flew over the fence, and were walking around the other door looking confused. The Silkies did not drift into the greenhouse.
The next morning, the Silkie rooster came barrelling inside when I opened the layer coop. The reason: one of his hens is sleeping in the wrong coop. He chased her a merry race and taught her a lesson, and then raced back outside, where the other rooster was taking advantage of his absence to get some. Life’s hectic for Snowball. He’s got a lot of responsibilities.
They did not integrate on their own until, due to a bad forecast, we lifted the Silkie coop into the GH. These long-suffering coops (Oh, they’ll last a year) are still enduring, still doing their job.
And then, miracles! they all just … got along. The layers drink side by side with the guineas, and the chicks are all up in the middle of everything, as they always have been. Infants of any species seem to get big tolerance passes. They can poop anywhere they like and be grabby and no one pecks them. The guineas are smaller than the layers right now, but they seem to know that’s a temporary state of affairs, and they face off. Staredowns, with their necks stuck out. I’m gonna be bigger than you real soon.
The layers are a bit bossy to the Silkies, but I’ve also seen the rooster run off a rude big hen. YES. I’m so glad it’s working!
Often the guineas are up on the haybales, just watching everyone else.
They still move as an inseparable unit, even if they’re doing different things. Some will be drinking, or eating, and the others will be curled up resting, but right next to them, and then they will all shuffle along together to the next stop.
Now there are five. One guinea disappeared as a very small chick, in the first few days. Actually vanished – I’ve never found a body, and there were no signs of foul play. In September, I found one hen dead in the morning, of unknown causes, like she died in her sleep. All the others came shuffling out of their hay-cave, and one was left, still. I believe there are now two guinea cocks and three guinea hens, judging by size – the differential is growing.
They look much like turkeys to me now, with bald-ish necks, sparse feathers, and they stick their heads out long. So funny/cute! They are “the Africans” or the “little clowns” because they do funny stuff. They are starting to make their weird sounds, and 5pm is the time to practice, every day. Can hear them ten acres away, shouting.
I “cleaned it up” some in the GH. Made some chicken play structures, which they dutifully appreciate.
All the vegetative debris and dead tomato/squash vines are just entertainment for them. Places to run around and hide, and lose a pursuing rooster. They pull down old tomatoes, eat any leftovers, dig, and dirt bathe. It’s a big party. The cardboard boxes too. They always like standing up on things.
There’s still a truckload of wood chips in there that I pushed aside to plant in, and a great deal of hay, so lots of carbon, and I’ll bring in more if I need to. It smells good, not like a chicken concentration camp. My hens will lay all winter in the greenhouse.
At first the layers weren’t sure. They weren’t allowed in the GH all summer, now they aren’t allowed out? They like to slip out the door behind me when I carry something in. Then five minutes later they’re outside standing on one foot in the frost, looking at me. This was a bad idea! All the food’s in there!
Soon I’m going to introduce a new rooster. He’s a gorgeous young bird, a Copper Maran, big but gentle. I’ve been telling my hens I’m about to set them up with him. I have a younger man for you to meet! I’m hoping that if he’s introduced to an unfamiliar room where the Silkie rooster already rules the roost, they won’t have a bloodbath fight. Because the Silkie would lose. This is why I’ve had to keep the flocks separate before.
I know that the space is too big for one rooster to rule, because the second rooster has started to crow! The poor, put-upon, brown beta rooster, who’s molting with anxiety, has enough literal space now to figuratively spread his wings. I hope to give them each a flock and enclosure of their own next year.
All the birds love salad. I thought I was just being lazy, letting a patch of salad greens go to seed, the mizuna growing into beachball sized clouds, and mustard greens into stalks my height and as thick as my wrist that tipped over under their own weight, but I was actually being brilliantly foresightful. I’m going to do it on purpose next year. The chickens love a good salad. I carry in an armload of greens, sprinkle it in a line along the open side of the GH, and all the birds move in, ripping and picking, all mixed up together in inter-avian harmony. Makes it quiet real quick.
The Silkies especially think that the thing to do with turnip tops is to pick them up and whack! them on the ground. It’s not the usual chicken lift and drop, it’s very aggressive, like they’re flail threshing. What’s really funny is a chick trying to do it to a foot-long turnip frond. That’s like a person taking a 30 foot pine tree and whacking it on the ground. It works about as well for the chick, but they try.
I thought they might be into cold-hardy greens considering what they did to the volunteer kale.
The incursion of the birds has pushed out the rodent population, as I hoped. The numbers are now down to one very bold resident squirrel. I hope he gets pecked. Chipmunks are gone.
Now that the coops are in the greenhouse the first Silkie with aspirations above her station has told a friend. Two Silkies are going into the layer hens’ coop to lay eggs! The one is still sleeping in there. Her chicks are convinced they sleep in the cardboard box still, and every night have to be chucked into their coop.
In the morning, I let the Silkies out first while I do everything, to give them a little advantage, first beak in the trough, before opening the layers. They know. They can hear, and they grumble! The rooster comes and waits at the bottom of the ramp for the Silkie hen to traipse out, then he pounces! Every morning. He knows she’s in there.
A couple of days before we moved the Silkie coop into the greenhouse, I got paranoid about the Silkie moms sleeping on the ground, and I popped the two moms and their chicks into the layer hen coop after dark, using the less favored nest boxes. They seemed happy. The one hen was already laying in there, after all. Then the third night, oh no.
One hen, the mom of two, had three chicks under her (sleepover!). The other (less intelligent) six were huddled in the box where their mom had taken to sleeping. No mom. I put them all away and start sweeping the greenhouse with a light. Uhoh. UhohUhohUhoh. She’s not there.
Finally it occurs to me to check the coop, and there she is! She’s lined up on the rail with the big red birds, head down. In fact, I could hardly see her because they’re all so much bigger. She’s done with chicks and moving on up with her life.
She’s big for a Silkie hen, but still! Who does she think she is? I can’t believe they tolerate her.
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.