Tag Archives: Silkies

What, were you born in a box?

A chicken in a box in the greenhouse? Nothing new there!

That’s where all the chicks and moms get put, at night, when they are put to bed from the chickery.

Thing is, I didn´t put her in there! 

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!

Granny and Grampy having a moment

I was lucky to see and capture Granny and the Colonel sharing an affectionate moment.

These two are the last remaining of my original Silkies that arrived in 2014.  Presumably they are the same age.  They could easily be 5 or more years old now. 

They were just standing in the shade together for a few minutes, while the other Silkies dust bathed on the other side of the tree.

Granny even offered a little grooming.

Adorable!

Granny is doing extremely well.  I thought she was on her way out a while ago, but since the hens all moved outside for the summer, she´s been toddling around with the best of them.  I think she can´t see as sharp; she doesn´t bounce out of the way like the others and you have to not step on her.

Outdoor Adventure Silkies

 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.

Planting in the greenhouse

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.

Worms everywhere.

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.

The guinea´s thinking about it  Looks drier in there.

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. …

Disaster!  Carnage!

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.

Tomatoes today:

 

 

 

 

Grass for the Oreos

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.

Someday, she will be mine

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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring

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.

Invasion of the fluffballs

This is supposed to be the layer coop.

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.

That´s the Colonel in the foreground. White.

 

 

 

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.

From farm to spa

Two lucky hens went for a long drive in a box.

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.

Grumpy chicken is not pleased with the box

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.

April summer

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.

Rare sighting: the bathing chicken

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!

Seen as though in a dream…

 

Play structure day

It was rearranging time again in the greenhouse, which is a big party for all the birds.

First their hay bale play structure was on the north side of the greenhouse, now it’s going to the south. The bales are really disintegrating now, but that’s ok.  They don’t have to last much longer.

Funny, the most action is not where I’m removing the hay bales from, but where I’m putting them.  There’s a bale here now where formerly there was not?  Fascinating!img_5384

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One hay bale

Immediately they have to stand all over it and discuss.

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Three hay bales

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Look how high the snow is outside!

Now they’re starting to get interested in what’s exposed on the other side of the room.

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She knows what’s good

 

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All done!

I love the rooster mincing across the high wire.  And the guinea on the right.

As usual, the layers tired of the gym and the Silkies came and established their clubhouse.  img_5394

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Snow’s even higher on the non-sun side.

Silkies being odd.

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.

img_5402I 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.

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All the contents removed from mesh floor
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Oh, is that the goal? A good nest box?

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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.

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What a weirdo!img_5414

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Granny’s all What the heck are you doing over there?
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Now here comes a hen: I live here! That’s my nest box, and what’s with the dude in the corner?

Poultry podiatry

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some hang their legs out straightMy 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.

some hold them up in front of them

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?

img_5308 img_5304 img_5303 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.

make sure to get the legs up to the joint

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.

Can I please be put down now?

Granny

We have an old hen.

img_5281She’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.

img_5279She 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.

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Shifting play structures

I moved the haybale play structure from its former location in the south corner of the greenhouse…

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…to the opposite side of the greenhouse.

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Long necks- everyone is curious

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.  img_4595While 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.

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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.

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Tentative inspection
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Heads down, butts up. At least three days worth of fascination in the former location.

Three dead mice were unearthed, precipitating the inevitable lively mouse run.

img_5064After a thorough inspection and finding it pleasing, the Silkie tribe moved in en masse… img_5057

and settled in for some hard lounging.

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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.

 

 

It’s a big playground in the greenhouse now

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.

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When they were small

img_4449 First there were the guineas, with the GH all to themselves.

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Hey can we come in there?

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.

img_4604Then 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.

img_4578Next 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.

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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.

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Or behind it
Or behind it

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.

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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.

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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.img_4586

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.img_4574 img_4577

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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.

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The mother of seven sleeps in here, and lays in here

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.

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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.

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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.

 

Coop infiltration continued

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.

One of these is not like the other
One of these is not like the other

Chickens.  They never cease to amuse.

 

Chicken treats – cucumbers!

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

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

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

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Then it gets real quiet.

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

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

Chickery II

From Oct 14

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

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

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

She does not appear impressed with the real estate.

So I upgraded.  Two boxes.  img_4459

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

 

First day in the chickery

We have a new hatch record.  I allowed this hen to set on 10 eggs, a compromise between the 7 or 8 i usually allow them to have, and the 20+ they try to cover.  She’s one of the largest hens, and she hatched out nine of them!  img_4380

Most of the time once they’re out of the egg they’re home free, but this time, two died in the first few days (both white ones).  They spent a full three days hatching, so they are now five to seven days old, and already have proper little wings growing in.

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When I go to put them back in the greenhouse in the evening I find this:

Oh, the grass is so dry this summer (and that's where the Silkie "tractor" has been)
Oh, the grass is so dry this summer (and that’s where the Silkie “tractor” has been)

The chicks are coming and going from underneath mom like she’s a roof, and she’s sedately being a shelter.

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Center front is a popular location.

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When I’m about to transport them to the greenhouse for the night, they all come spilling out.

First I airlift mom out, then I come back for the chicks, who are acting forlorn.img_4384

They much prefer to be picked up all together in a big two handed pile.  The last batch of five quietly allowed me to scoop them all up at once right up until they were big enough for the big coop, but seven all at once proves too many.

Good, because I can’t take pictures with two hands full.img_4388

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My favorite trick- Mom surfing.

Into the box for the night.

New occupants ready for the chickery means the former denizens, the last batch, got moved up to the big house last night.  Even at midnight, mom was feisty, flapping around, so I stuffed her under my sweatshirt (I wanted to move mom and chicks in one shipment so as to only open the coop once).  She started scratching around and climbing the inside of my shirt until she had her head stuck down my sleeve.  Ok then.  Apparently contented, she cooed as I stuffed the chicks one at a time into the roo pocket of my sweatshirt.  Chicks always seem to like it in there.  Then I dropped her into the coop, the rooster shuffling sideways on the perch to give me more than enough room, and shoveled the chicks under her.  All done.

More Silkie chicks

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So cute, little blunt wings and variegated colouring

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

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

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

The Chick Cycle, and Hen-in-a-box

First comes the broody hen.  Usually I find her staunchly defending her post on at least twenty eggs, spread out like a feather pancake futilely trying to cover them all.

They have no restraint. That’s why she goes in the box.  I let her keep seven or eight eggs, and make up a bunk with hay and a glass of water and a dish of food.  At times I have three boxes all lined up. 20160620_072455In there each hen “sleeps” in her broody trance uninterrupted except for getting her vittles refreshed.

Then they hatch.  Immediately, I move the whole family and unhatched eggs into a fresh box.  That broody box has all poop and spilled feed and water under the hay, so they need a clean box to start life in.  I find it takes two days usually for all the birds to hatch, and the chicks take it easy those first couple days, spending their time dozing under mom, transitioning to life outside the shell.

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Then the chicks decide to pop out from underwing, and start hopping around, jumping in the water and stuff.  They get another day or two in a more sizable box, with room to run around and spill all the food.  Sometimes the hen is still sitting on an egg, but she will very soon give it up and start mothering.

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Next they go into the indoor playpen, which is just a big box opened up against the screen door for ventilation, and arranged on the greenhouse floor, which is dirt, of course, and a layer of wood chips.  Now the mom will start to teach chicken life skills.  20160723_070037Scratching, drinking.  20160723_06581420160723_065756The beak sweep, the beak wipe.20160704_072546

And of course, the dust bathing.

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20160723_06590220160723_065953 20160723_065922She can see the world out there through the screen door.

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After a few days in the playpen, then they all go in the chickery.

20160728_095915 20160728_095921 Whoohoo!  Grass!  This is a frabjous day.  20160728_095948

At night, I have to lift all the chicks and mom into a box and shut them in the greenhouse overnight, for safety.  In the morning, I carry a cheeping box back outside and empty it into the chickery.

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Hey!

This hen thinks I’ve slept in too long, and it’s high time that they get let outside.

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Hey!!

 

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HEY!

Eventually, after a week, two, or more, or single parenting, the family will be put into Silkieland with the main flock. 20160720_142501 I have to say, it’s working great.  Waiting until the chicks are older to put them in the coop avoids the daily in and out woes.  Their little chicken brains are developed enough after the chickery daycare  to learn how to go in and out quite rapidly.

The Only Chick

The latest broody hen hatched out just one chick.

Unfortunately, she decided she was NOT done sitting on the rest of her eggs, and insistently refused to get up and start mothering, for several days (!).

I attempted to adopt the lone chick into the clutch that hatched four days earlier.  Four days makes a difference – the newer chick is significantly smaller.  I moved the chick in the night and put her under the other hen, but in the morning, I saw the hen pecking the intruder on the head!  Yikes!  Adoption not successful.

What to do?  Take the eggs away?  That could mean killing chicks that are almost baked, as the setting hens usually seem to know when their eggs are alive or not.

Luckily, the mother finally got up off  her eggs and got about the business of early chick education.

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The only chick and mother in the chick cycle rotation.  Upgrade to the chickery.

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I go to put them out in the morning, and she’s laid an egg!  This hen is so ready for more chicks.

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I love this stage where they get a little puff for a tail

 

Chickens in a box- lockdown!

Since the most determined little brown hen got up off her eggs for the second time, right before they were due, toasting another clutch, I finally listened to HW and removed her from the coop and locked her up.  This is her third nearly-complete round, and that’s a long time for her to be sitting and mostly not eating.

Another brown hen went broody at the same time, and I got to them just in time, as each already had an eight egg horde- a little ambitious, but it’s summer, so I let them keep all eight.  Now they are boxed.

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HW and I went back and forth- I have had bad luck when I interfere with them, but it has also not gone well when I don’t interfere with them.  They find ways to screw up; it’s very frustrating.  He told me “just take them out of the coop entirely, then there’s no distractions, no more eggs to steal”.  This means I will have to reintroduce them to the flock, and learning how to go in and out of the coop may be that much harder, but we’ll cross that hurdle once we get some chicks, I suppose.

They are in ventilated boxes next to the door of the greenhouse.  I’m a bit paranoid of them getting too hot in there, and how secure are they in the GH at night?, but so far, so good.  There is always a healthy cooling  draft through the GH.  They each have a fount with their poultry vitamin supplement (chicken Gatorade), and a little bowl of food, which they both consume a little of every day, I’m glad, and I sometimes have to scoop their poop.

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There are four more sister hens and the original white hen (outside), who is a little old lady now.  She seems to have shrunk, so tiny when you pick her up.  Still cranky though.  If any more drop into the broody trance, I’m going to have a whole lineup of bird boxes.

Lightning bugs and chicken feet under a full moon

The lightning bugs are out in force tonight over the blueberries and the moon is pink and bright.

I was bodysnatching chickens out of the coop under cover of moonlight to rub vaseline on their feet.  Yes, you read that correctly.  This is half of the anti-scaly leg mite procedure, which my Silkies seem to  always have, and a few of the layers have mildly.  Since their feet look remarkably better after a night of vaseline so I thought I’d experiment with the moisturizing treatment before the exfoliating scrub, what the hell.

I did the layers first and they were not into it.  Easy to catch, but the coop was a writhing mass of complaining murmurs in the background.  They were squawking and squirming around fighting for the corner.  It was like Playing Koi (Lumosity)- what birds have I done?

The Silkies are a different breed.  They all stay in place and I pick them up one at a time, spa their feet, and replace them.  Just a little bit of peeping protest (including the rooster-he emits the most unmasculine squeaks when he’s handled) and then they stretch out for the foot rubs.  They are so small and delicate and soft and fluffy like you think a dandelion should feel.

It must be very confusing, but they seem to sort of enjoy the massage part.

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Oh, are you going broody too? How committed are you?
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Pretty committed then. I’ve shifted her to the other clean side of coop, it’s coop cleaning day.

We got two hot days, finally, but could I open the hive?   No! We had rip-your-hat-off wind that would not take a break.  Too windy.  Someday I’ll get to see in the hive.

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HW is in a 600km randoneuring event this weekend.  He is almost finished the two day (!) ride, but the heat and wind must have been horrible.  He is having difficulty in the last hours.

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An interesting bug

I am pleased with my sweet potatoes.  i planted the “slips” that came, although they looked like ragged little stems (accompanying literature said ‘this is normal’)

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In a few days, they looked even worse. This is one of the better looking specimens

But then, overnight, stems standing up and new leaves a purply brown colour.  They live!

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These pictures don’t look like anything. It looks like two pictures of a pile of straw!

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Whoa!  This new build is on a low swinging branch of the apple tree.  Only a few feet off the ground.  But these wasps know what they’re doing.  There will be no commute at all to the windfall apple feasting that will come soon.

And this is a chicken path.  I’ve started to notice chicken ley lines where they move through the veg in single file.  Often they use our paths, but they also make their own trails.

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Broody hen egg poachers

Today I open the coop to this mess.

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I’m helping!

How exactly did they get an egg in the fount?

The fount is in there for the determined broody who was settled in.  I thought I’d try out letting her set in the coop.  It’s not going well.

My Silkies are trying.  Very trying.

The last of my originals are the good rooster and the little white hen, who is smaller all the time (shrinking)- a little wraith of a chicken- but still feisty, cranky, and laying.  The other hens are all former chicks, hatched last year, who are now trying to figure out how to become mother hens, but are rather bad at it and do not accept instruction.

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First they all went broody one after the other, in March.  A little early, Missy’s, but, if you must…  They decided to pile up together right at the top of their ramp, a small-brained decision.  Eggs roll, after all.  And the roosters would step on them on their way into the coop.

Then, the egg-thieving began.  These Slkies are champion egg thieves.  It’s an ongoing problem.  At first, the let-no-egg-go-untended ethos seemed good, as when any of the sisters left for a drink or a quick bite, her eggs were promptly grabbed and tucked under a hot furry chicken breast.

Curious how they moved eggs around as they obviously, frequently do, I’d wondered about their egg-rolling methods until I saw them do it, right under my hands.  It turns out the beak and the egg are perfectly adapted to each other when it comes to rolling.  I was shuffling irritated hens around to see what was under them, an egg came into sight, and whisk!  The hen (in my hands) stretched out her beak and flick-rolled that egg into her own collection as fast as a blink.  OK, then!

So these broody sisters were playing egg-snatchers, and sometimes a hen would have no eggs, another would have too many.  The egg arms race.

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“Chicken Gatorade”- poultry multivitamin

I tried to move three of the most committed birds into a shared broody box (still in the coop), but they were having none of it. Two escaped the box and returned to their original precarious choice (top of the ramp), leaving one heroically topping a mound of abandoned eggs.

I was reluctant to take any of them out of the coop because it seems cold to be away from the familial body heat.

I let them have it their way.  It did not go well.  Eggs vanished.  One hen decided to set a clutch way too big for her under the ramp, and when I culled her holdings she restored her stock from who-knows-where.

Eventually all the hens but one gave up and moved on with another phase in their lives.  That one, so determined, sat and sat.  She’s a classy polite little brown lady, like her mom the first brown hen. When it went far too long for anything to be alive under her, I took and broke her eggs, and sadly, half of them were almost finished before they died.  I don’t know why; there must have been some event.  The others were horribly rotten, gah!

She’s so fixed though (I’m hatching a damn egg if it’s the last thing I do!), that I gave her four new eggs, and, worried for her body weight, her own snack bar, which I think she ignores but the other hens polish off.  20160522_073507

A few days later, I was tucking fresh hay around her and peeked- seven eggs!  Sigh, here we go.  I suppose she’s taking them from the other side of the coop where the other ladies are laying and leaving these days.  I have to watch these little birds, but they do not make it easy to help them.

(just after this I resorted to sequestering each hen with about seven eggs in a box of her own in the greenhouse, and the Silkie population is now burgeoning)

From toads to hens

I love toads.  I’ve always been crazy about them.   For some reason.   I used to build elaborate toad mansions under the back porch when I was young, hoping to entice the toads that got trapped in the window wells to stay.  Occasionally, they obliged.

Grown up, I’m happy to learn that toads eat slugs and are therefore a gardener’s best friend.  This is good, because I’m already friends with them.  I like their simple, clumsy toad ways.   And the grumpy faces.  I have to reprise some mansion-building in the garden to make it more comfortable there for them.

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I tossed out some rhubarb leaves, expecting the hens to definitely not eat them.  Surprise!  Later on, the leaves were completely skeletonized.

Edit: Rhubarb leaves are super poisonous!  The oxalic acid can kill animals, or us, if we eat many many rhubarb leaves.  Put it on the list, with styrofoam, of proof that chickens do not know what they should and shouldn’t eat.

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The Robin is not nesting in her usual spot.  We saw her earlier, and now she is conspicuously absent, so she is likely sitting on eggs at the moment.  When they hatch and she has to feed them, then we will know where her nest is.  She acts all sly and sneaky when she’s feeding her chicks but totally gives away where they are.

I’m hoping that she has finally moved out of the Robin Shed, so called since she has raised at least one clutch of chicks every year we’ve been here in a  nest above the door.  Perhaps she has finally deemed it unfit for avian habitation, and we will finally be able to tear it down.

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The Silkies are soooo pleased to be outside.  I feel guilty for not getting them outside much sooner (they stayed late in the greenhouse this spring).  Suddenly they spend all day outside poking around, and lounging in this corner where the grass is longer.  I see this photo makes it look like they are wistfully looking at the greener grass beyond their entrapment, but that’s not the case.   Someone must be passing by.  A nosy red chicken.

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I like the walnut trees with their early leaves on the tips of the branches.  They are exotic and kind of ornamental.